Former employee sues NHPRI for discrimination following eye surgery leave

NEIGHBORHOOD HEALTH PLAN OF RHODE ISLAND is the subject of a lawsuit by a former employee who says he was discriminated against and fired for taking medical leave for vision-saving surgeries.

SMITHFIELD — A former Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island telecommunications administrator has filed suit against the company demanding $300,000 in damages, alleging his supervisor harassed and discriminated against him, fired him and then cost him his next job after he took medical leave for surgeries to save his vision.

The suit, filed today in R.I. District Court, alleges that when James Sullivan of Bellingham, Mass., notified his supervisor that he was going blind due to cataracts and would need a series of surgeries to save his vision over the course of several months in 2017, he requested leave to schedule the operations. According to the lawsuit, Sullivan’s supervisor, James Doran, senior manager of infrastructure and support at the company, immediately responded by telling Sullivan he was annoyed by the request and demanded that he reschedule the surgeries so he could arrange to cover Sullivan’s absence.

Sullivan responded that the need for the surgeries was time sensitive and couldn’t be delayed, according to the suit. He was eventually granted leave, but charges that he immediately noticed his performance was being judged more harshly than before his leave request.

Sullivan alleges that Doran repeatedly asked him to reschedule more eye surgeries and reprimanded him for not performing work that had been generated during his last medical leave. The suit also alleges that Sullivan’s supervisor refused to provide him a larger computer screen to compensate for his vision problems.

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Then, during a review of Sullivan’s 2017 performance, Doran allegedly criticized him for delays on the work generated during his leave, and also did not take his medical problems into consideration, and used his medical leave against him. According to the lawsuit, durring the review, Doran told Sullivan he would be fired in 90 days.

Sullivan found another job June 4, but was fired from the position a few weeks after Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island was cited by the U.S. Department of Labor for various violations of the Family Medical Leave Act in response to Sullivan’s complaint, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit also alleges that Sullivan’s new supervisor was in contact with Doran and that his firing was connected to his difficulties with Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island.

Sullivan’s lawyer, Thomas Enright, said the $300,000 sought in the lawsuit is preliminary number, which will help Sullivan recoup lost wages and future wages following his mistreatment by his supervisor at Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island.

“We assume it’s going to be pretty difficult for him to find a new job at his age,” Enright said.

Enright noted that Sullivan’s need for the surgeries was more serious than normal age-related cataracts, and that the repeated delays of the operations his supervisor requested would have cost Sullivan his vision.

Neighborhood Health Plan declined to comment on the lawsuit, stating its policy to not comment on personnel matters.

“Neighborhood promotes equal opportunity for all employees and applicants. In doing so, we comply with local, state, and federal laws and regulations to ensure an equal employment opportunity for everyone,” said Josh Estrella, spokesman for Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island.

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com.