An Augusta woman who won backing from a state human rights panel for her claims of disability discrimination against Molina Healthcare is now suing her former employer in federal court.

Angela S. Johnson, 60, is seeking back wages and other damages as well as an order forcing Molina Information Systems LLC to provide civil rights training for human resources workers and supervisors on provisions around disability employment discrimination.

Johnson, through attorneys Carol Garvan and Valerie Wicks, filed the lawsuit Wednesday last week in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

The lawsuit accuses Molina Healthcare of “disability discrimination, denial of reasonable accommodations, retaliation and intentional and willful interference of employee’s rights and retaliation for requesting medical leave” as well as “failure to provide personnel file and written statement of reasons for termination.”

The federal lawsuit follows failed conciliation between Johnson and Molina Healthcare, one of two subsidiaries of Molina Information Systems LLC, which has its headquarters in Long Beach, California.

Laura Murray, who handles media relations for Molina Healthcare, said via email that it’s company policy “not to comment on pending litigation so we’re unable to provide any additional information.”

Johnson initially took her claims of unlawful employment discrimination to the Maine Human Rights Commission. In August 2017, that panel voted 4-0 to find reasonable grounds to believe she was subject to both illegal disability discrimination and retaliation when she was fired after she requested an accommodation for an illness.

The panel did not support Johnson’s claim that she was denied a reasonable accommodation.

Johnson was fired on Oct. 10, 2014, from her job in on the Augusta office of Molina.

At that time, Molina Healthcare provided Medicaid services under a contract with the state, and Garvan said Johnson “was overseeing many people in terms of helping with the operation of that Medicaid contract.”

Johnson had asked her employer to take intermittent leave under the Family Medical Leave Act when she suffered a recurrence of symptoms of Meniere’s disease Oct. 4, 2014. The disease has symptoms of vertigo, hearing loss and ringing in the ear. Her healthcare provider also filled out “FMLA certification paperwork (which) restricted Ms. Johnson to ‘work from home until current flare resolved,'” according to the complaint in federal court.

That paperwork was submitted Oct. 7, 2014.

“They immediately asked her for FMLA certificate paperwork, then separately for (Americans with Disabilities Act) paperwork to support a reasonable accommodation,” Garvan said by phone on Friday. “They asked her to provide that paperwork within three weeks, but the day after they fired her by phone.”

The work-from-home accommodation was denied.

Johnson had worked for Molina Healthcare in Augusta for four years, most recently as manager of operations, and prior to that for the predecessor firm, Unisys Corp., for eight years.

According to report by a Maine Human Rights Commission investigator Angela Tizon, Molina provided emails from early September 2014 that recommended terminating Johnson’s employment with the company.

Tizon had recommended the commission find no reasonable grounds that Johnson was a victim of discrimination.

However, Tizon wrote in a footnote, “It is worth noting that the outcome of this case hinges on the timing of the discharge decision. Although this case presented a very close call on that point, the investigator did not find that (Johnson) had at least an even chance of prevailing on her argument that (Molina’s) evidence on this point was false.”

Garvan said that after Johnson was terminated from Molina, she found contract work and now is employed permanently in New Hampshire, commuting there from her Augusta home.

“After her sudden firing by Molina just days after the flare-up of her Meniere’s disease, it has taken years for Ms. Johnson to start putting her life back together,” Garvin said via email on Monday. “We are hopeful that Ms. Johnson will be able to obtain some measure of justice, and perhaps even more importantly, ensure that all Molina employees, including those with disabilities, will be treated fairly in the future.

Garvan also said the flare-up of Meniere’s disease was brief. “She was able to recover very quickly,” Garvan said.

No one appeared at the Maine Human Rights Commission hearing on behalf of Molina Healthcare. However, Garvan said she had been in contact with an attorney at Molina’s headquarters.

The firm has not been served with formal notice of the lawsuit, but Garvan said she anticipated having Molina served in the next 90 days.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. and referred to Magistrate Judge John C. Nivison.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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