A former employee at NYU Langone Medical Center is suing the institution for alleged discrimination, asserting that his employers fired him for requesting to work in a capacity that did not inflame his chronic back pain.
Laurence Malzberg was fired in April after 18 years of employment at Langone. For the majority of his tenure, he worked in the Interventional Radiology Department, although in 2012 he switched from full to part-time after being transferred to the Outpatient CT Scan unit. Malzberg was happy with the change, as he suffered from significant back pain, rendering certain operations at the IR painful and strenuous. However, in February, he was once again asked to work full-time at the IR. His refusal to do so without accommodations, something afforded to him by the Americans with Disabilities Act, resulted in his firing, Malzberg claims.
After an initial exchange with human resources — in which Malzberg cited his back pain and the difficulties it would cause him in IR — he claims the HR representative disregarded his complaint.
“She further warned him that not only would he lose his job, NYU would penalize him by not paying out his 24 banked vacation days and warned that he would not be offered any kind of unemployment insurance benefits,” the written complaint reads.
According to the complaint, Malzberg was then unlawfully forced to choose between working full-time in the IR department with severe pain or being released from Langone entirely.
“It then became crystal clear to Mr. Malzberg that NYU had given him an ultimatum: endure physical suffering and health risks working full time in IR at LMC, or lose your job,” the complaint reads.
The ADA mandates all employers to undergo in-depth discussions about a worker’s disability and provide accommodation so they can continue their work.
“NYU had an obligation to engage in an interactive process with Mr. Malzberg requiring a good-faith effort to come up with an accommodation for him so he could continue his long, successful career at NYU without suffering harm or physical pain,” Malzberg’s personal attorney Scott Simpson told WSN.
Malzberg said his pleas for accommodation were either disregarded or not appropriately dealt with by HR officials.
“What’s disturbing about this case is NYU never engaged in an interactive process with Mr. Malzberg, they never asked him specific questions about his medical issues, they never asked for medical records, they never proposed alternatives that would allow him to work in IR,” Simpson said.
Seeking a position in Langone that did not cause him pain, Malzberg underwent an interview process with the Dysautonomia Center. After his interview, he said he received details about his compensation and was told he had gotten the job, according to the complaint.
Soon after, Malzberg received a voicemail from Radiology Department administrator Daniel Alexa.
The voicemail requested Malzberg to appear at the IR department the following day to begin training for the position he had previously declined, without any mention of accommodations. Alexa said he should begin working in the IR in case he hadn’t received the other position, according to the complaint.
Two days later, Malzberg received an email from HR representative Mandy Woodley, stating that he would not be granted the position at the Dysautonomia Center. The complaint claims an ensuing phone call from Woodley left it unclear whether or not Malzberg had initially been offered the job.
“Something happened between the time that he was offered the job by Dr. Kauffmann and the point where NYU told him he would not be permitted to work in that job,” Simpson said. “We don’t know what it is and we plan to find out in the litigation.”
Following this interaction, Malzberg was told that if he did not report to the IR department on March 29 he would be fired. Malzberg did not appear at the IR department because, although an HR representative eventually mentioned accommodations in a letter, they never spoke about what actions would be specifically taken or how accommodations would be implemented.
“Not only was this mention of a reasonable accommodation secreted in the fourth paragraph [of the letter], but it was camouflaged in a letter consisting largely of boilerplate legalese and HR jargon,” the complaint reads.
His failure to appear led to the end of his 18-year career at Langone.
“As a result of NYU’s actions, Mr. Malzberg suffered loss of employment, extreme emotional distress, mental anguish and anxiety,” the complaint stated.
Correction, Nov. 27: A previous version of this article did not use the same wording as the complaint when describing Malzberg’s interaction with Kaufman, stating he “believed he was offered the job” rather than “he was offered the job.” The article has been updated to reflect the correction and WSN regrets the error.
NYU Langone declined to comment.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, November 25, 2019, print edition. Email Lisa Cochran at [email protected]