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Horticulturalist Files Lawsuit Against Employer After 22 Years

— September 15, 2021

Parks & Rec employee files gender discrimination lawsuit against Washtenaw County after being employed for more than two decades.

Kathleen Squiers, who has been employed for 22 years as a park horticulturalist at the Washtenaw County, Michigan, Parks and Recreation Commission’s maintenance division, has filed a lawsuit alleging she faced gender-based discrimination as well as the county’s refusal to accommodate her disability during the course of her employment.  Horticulturalists are hired to do grounds work at the county’s 6,000 acres of green space.

The complaint states that Squiers “was passed over for more lucrative work opportunities offered to her male coworkers, while being given more difficult jobs.”  She was also, it states, “denied medical accommodations recommended by a doctor for an aneurysm-related disability, instead placing her on unpaid status and forcing her to use leave time she needed for [asthma attacks].”  For years, Squiers had used Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time to manage her asthma and being forced onto leave for another medical concern meant she would be unable to do so.  Her attorney Scott Batey said his client is currently on leave, as instructed by the county.

Horticulturalist Files Lawsuit Against Employer After 22 Years
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

“Much of the lawsuit’s specific claims center on a medical condition Squiers was diagnosed with in April 2021.  In May, Squiers’ doctor recommended a limit be placed on the amount of weight she could lift at work,” according to court documents. “Squiers rarely had to lift anything over those limitations and when she did, she would receive assistance from co-workers.”  But instead of being accommodating to her situation and the orders of a physician, the county “forced Squiers on unpaid leave.”

Moreover, Squiers “observed male coworkers called in during the COVID-19 pandemic to perform outdoor work paid at twice the normal rate, but she wasn’t given the same opportunity,” the suit states.

Squiers would like to maintain the long-held position with the county.  “Ideally she’ll be returned to work with her accommodation, and they will stop harassing her,” Batey said. “They’ll make her whole.”

In 2015, a former employee of West Des Moines, Iowa, Jerry Keener, won his age discrimination case against the city.  Keener, in his 70s, filed a civil lawsuit against West Des Moines and six employees from the Parks and Recreation and Human Resources departments in July 2014, alleging he was wrongfully terminated.

According to court documents, Keener was fired on June 27, 2013, when he was 69 years old after working as a seasonal horticulturalist for five years.  Prior to that, the horticulturalist said he was “called ‘old man’ on numerous occasions by co-workers.”  When he reported this to human resources, nothing was done.

Keener also voiced concerns over on-the-job safety violations, and afterwards, said the city reduced his pay.  Namely, he was concerned that the city did not provide him with gloves for cleaning up bird waste.  Shortly after discussing with HR his concerns, he was let go and leadership attempted to block his unemployment claims.  Settling the lawsuit, the West Des Moines City Council paid him $50,000 without admitting to any wrongdoing.

Squiers is asking for a judgement of more than $75,000 as well as damages and attorney fees.


Washtenaw County faces discrimination lawsuit from 22-year employee

W.D.M. settles age discrimination lawsuit

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