Longtime College Employee Amends Lawsuit Against OCCC
By: Cithera Hinds, Staff Writer
A former OCCC employee of over 22 years who was fired after undergoing a liver ultrasound has amended her civil complaint against Oklahoma City Community College and Executive Vice President Marlene Landini after OCCC asked for the case to be dismissed.
Denise Gomez, who served as Landini’s administrative assistant is suing the college and Landini in civil court for employment discrimination, age discrimination, and interference with and retaliation for use or attempted use of medical leave in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, according to her complaint filed July 31 in the United Stated District Court For the Western District of Oklahoma.
Gomez is also suing for breach of contract and is seeking damages for suffering lost income and benefits, emotional distress and other damages allowed by law, according to the complaint.
She is asking for a jury trial
In her amended complaint Gomez’s attorneys state Gomez, who was 58 years old at the time of her firing, served in many roles at OCCC. She was hired as a receptionist in the Physical Plant and Facility Department in 1995 and later held a position as the Secretary in the President’s office until 2011, according to the complaint.
Gomez worked many positions until May 2018, and because of a reduction in force she was transferred to the position of Administrative Assistant to the Chief of Staff, to serve under Landini.
According to the amended complaint, Gomez told Landini she needed treatment for a serious liver condition and needed to miss a few hours of work on June 12, 2018 for an ultrasound. One day after the ultrasound, Landini fired Gomez.
OCCC Chief of Staff Donald R. Hackler would not comment stating, “OCCC does not make any comments on any pending litigations.”
Messages left for Landini and college President Jerry Steward were not returned by presstime. Messages left for Gomez’s attorneys were also not returned by presstime.
The college has asked Federal court Judge Charles Goodwin to dismiss the case alleging in their Aug. 21 reponse that Gomez was not adhering to the requirements of her contract.
College attorneys also said Gomez was not fulfilling the obligations of her contract and Gomez was not terminated officially until July 31, 2018, which was the end of her contract, according to the dismissal filing.
They also assert that more than 57 assertions by Gomez are false.
Attorneys for Landini and OCCC also state in their reply that Gomez never mentioned the severity of her medical condition to OCCC or her supervisors and that her medical condition was not sufficient for FMLA protections
They also said Gomez was an at-will employee, meaning she could have been fired for any reason – or none at all.
According to Gomez’s complaint, she suffers from a serious liver condition that if untreated could lead to liver cancer. Gomez alleges she told Landini she had waited to see a liver specialist for approximately six months and could not wait any longer.
She also alleges she was not told of her rights to medical leave under FMLA.
Gomez alleges she was called into Landini’s office after her ultrasound and was read a termination memorandum stating that she was being terminated for poor performance at work.
Landini also offered Gomez severance pay, but she declined to take the severance agreement which would have forbade her from suing OCCC and Landini, according to the college’s and Gomez’s complaint.
Gomez was chosen for employee of the year and had received positive performance evaluations in all of her years at OCCC, according to the complaint.
She also alleges she had worked only nine days in the President’s office and wasn’t informed that her performance was poor.
Further she alleges the college did not follow policy number 2019 “Positive Discipline” related to disciplining an employee for poor performance.
According to the policy, several discipline options are recommended rather than termination including informal discussion, formal discussion with a memo to the employee and written reprimand.
The case is expected to last into 2020, according to court documents.