by Valerie Verkamp
A hearing has been scheduled to discuss a possible settlement in an employment discrimination lawsuit against the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.
Connie S. Steven, 56, of Kansas City, filed a petition for damages in the Platte County Circuit Court on Oct. 3, 2016, after receiving a right-to-sue notice from the Missouri Commission on Human Rights.
The lawsuit alleges defendants' Harley Davidson, Jason Franklin and Jon Proden acted in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA).
Over the course of 17-years of service at the Harley-Davidson facility in Platte County, Steven alleges she met all the requirements for the various positions she held and received raises and bonuses for her work performance on a regular basis. While serving as an inventory lead it wasn't uncommon for her to work upwards of 80 hours a week, states court documents.
Eventually, her hectic schedule may have taken a role on her health, allege court documents. While on vacation from work on Sept. 3, 2015 through Sept. 8, 2015, a physician diagnosed Steven with acute bronchitis, chronic sinusitis and exhaustion. Obeying her doctor's orders, Steven took several days off work to recover from her physical ailments.
When Steven was cleared to return to work on Sept. 16, 2015, she told her supervisor she needed to reduce her work hours and take a medical leave of absence.
Two days later, Jon Proden, human resource director of Harley-Davidson, informed Steven she was being suspended pending an investigation into a forklift accident that occurred at an ancillary warehouse on Aug. 26, 2015. Before she was escorted out-the-door, Proden retrieved Steven's company issued phone and laptop.
Steven contends she merely “indirectly supervised” the Harley-Davidson employee who was allegedly injured while operating the forklift truck at an off-premise facility.
The lawsuit alleges Harley-Davidson did not take into account the fact that the injured employee's direct supervisor was aware the employee was operating the forklift without proper certification or experience.
Following a four-day investigation, Steven was relieved from her duties at Harley-Davidson.
The lawsuit contends no other employees were disciplined in the forklift accident.
Gender discrimination and age discrimination alleged
The lawsuit alleges Steven's gender played a role in her firing.
“Defendants manifested their unlawful gender bias through their actions and statements, including, but not limited to, terminating plaintiff's employment for pretextual reasons, while similar situated male employees were treated more favorably,” alleges the petition for damages.
To recover lost wages and benefits coupled with damages for emotional pain and suffering, Steven is seeking more than $25,000. She contends the defendants' conduct was “willful, wanton and malicious.” The lawsuit contends the defendants' failed to protect Steven from gender discrimination by failing to enforce policy designed to prevent discrimination.
Age was cited as another contributing factor in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends the defendants intentionally discriminated against Steven and “failed to make good faith efforts to enforce policies to prevent age discrimination.”
The lawsuit points out Steven was replaced by a much younger employee. Steven requested another $25,000 in damages to correct the defendants alleged unlawful age bias.
Lastly, the lawsuit claims Steven's physical impairment or disability was a contributing factor in Harley-Davidson's decision to terminate Steven's employment. At the time of the firing, Steven was a “qualified individual with a disability under the MHRA,” states the lawsuit.
In the defendants' answer filed on Nov. 23, 2016, Harley-Davidson denied any wrongdoing and maintained that Steven was not eligible for any relief. The defendants argue that an employee working under Steven's “direct and immediate supervision suffered a serious work-related injury at an off-premises warehouse while driving a forklift truck that she was not qualified to operate.”
Harley-Davidson maintains Steven was accountable for the accident.
“Plaintiff directed an unqualified employee to operate a powered vehicle that the employee verbally acknowledged she did not know how to operate, demonstrating poor judgment and violating Harley-Davidson's policies and protocols,” states the defendants' answer.
A hearing to discuss reaching an agreement has been scheduled for 9 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2018.