Woman Fired for Heart Condition
A small New Hampshire defense contractor fired a woman because she had a heart condition, claims a suit filed by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Nashua-based Windmill International fired Nancy Hajjar on April 12, a week after she told the company she would need time off for a procedure to clear clogged arteries, and that she might need heart surgery. Last year she told the company she had blocked carotid arteries, according to papers filed in U.S. District Court in Concord.
Windmill has appeared multiple times on the Inc. 500|5000. Founded in 1988, the company has received funding from the U.S. Small Business Innovation Research Program and recently won a SBA Tibbetts Award, which honors programs that bring federal research and development to market.
The New Hampshire Business Review says the case is one of very few—and possibly the only—case litigated in the state by the EEOC under the Americans with Disabilities Act. EEOC complaints rarely make it to court: Though the commission received some 100,000 complaints in fiscal year 2010 (the last year for which figures are available), it filed just 271 suits that year. A quarter of the complaints to the commission were disability discrimination; less than 17 percent (41) of the suits it filed were disability related.
Windmill told the EEOC Hajjar was fired for performance issues. But the company's failure to put her on a written performance plan—which it did for other employees with the same issues—led the EEOC to conclude Windmill's explanation was "false."
"We believe we will be absolved of doing wrong," Windmill's lawyer Peter Bennett told NHBR. "I don't believe the EEOC investigated everything, and we have evidence that justified what we did. The government is going after a small business that is part of the backbone of this economy."
Inc. contributing editor Courtney Rubin was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.