Suit Alleges Disability Discrimination Following Denied Remote Work And Semester Of “Forced Unpaid Leave”
Director of Residence Life Clea Taylor filed a lawsuit against Reed College in June alleging that the college discriminated against her mental health disability by refusing to allow her to work from home, informing her that she would face immediate termination if she did not appear at work in person, and ultimately placing her on indefinite unpaid leave against her will. At press time, Taylor, who has worked at ResLife for 12 years, is still on leave, and has been since March of 2022. Her suit seeks $394,000 in compensation.
According to the suit, Taylor first requested a remote work accommodation in December of 2021 while she was on medical leave after a series of distressing interactions with a student in Fall of 2021 led her to be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and adjustment disorder with anxiety. Later that month Taylor’s supervisor, Tawana Parks, informed Taylor that Reed would not be able to meet her accommodation request. Taylor then requested a remote work accommodation for the second time in January; following this, the suit claims that Assistant Director of HR Cypress Williams informed her that the college could not initially grant her request, but “would ‘re-consider’ her request if [Taylor] provided documentation that her requested accommodation was medically necessary,” which she did in the form of a medical provider’s letter on February 7th, 2022. Allegedly, following a request from Reed for Taylor to provide more concrete information about when she would be able to return to work, her provider sent a second letter which stated that she would need to perform remote work until at least May 2022.
On February 28, 2022, Taylor met with representatives of Reed College to discuss her request for accommodation. Following the meeting, on March 2, Williams wrote to Taylor and informed her that Reed would not be able to meet her request for remote work, even after reconsidering in light of her medical documentation. In documents pertaining to the case, Reed College admitted that Williams also told Taylor that “if Taylor did not report for work on March 7, 2022, her employment would end the following day.” According to Taylor, she obtained legal counsel following this communication. Taylor did not report to work on March 7; Reed declined to fire her following this, though they deny any correlation between that decision and Taylor’s acquisition of a lawyer. Following this, Reed placed Taylor on leave, which according to Taylor has been unpaid. Reed College admitted in documents pertaining to the case that Taylor “did not request to be placed on unpaid leave in March 2022 or any time thereafter.”
Officially, Taylor remains on leave. In correspondence dated June 10, 2022 — the same day that Reed College was notified of the suit — Williams informed Taylor, “We [Reed College] are unable to find reasonable accommodations that would allow you to perform the essential functions of your current Co-Director of Residence Life Position. We need to fill that role so we are no longer able to hold that position open for you as we have been doing.” The email further goes on to encourage her to apply for a “temporary, part-time” job available at the time. As of September 7, 2022, there is a listing for Taylor’s position, Director of Residence Life, on jobs.reed.edu where Reed posts open job offers. The webpage also now features the notice, “Reed College employment opportunities are in person and on campus. Therefore we do not offer remote positions.”
In an article recently published by the Quest, former ResLife employees attributed the widespread issues with housing assignments last spring to Taylor’s absence. According to that article, “Two months following her hiring, [Former Operations Coordinator Kirstie Opel] realized that due to the undisclosed absence of the director of ResLife Clea Taylor, she was doing the ‘job of Assistant Director and/or director under the operation’s title,’ as noted to her then by the co-director of ResLife, Julia Nicholson.” The article goes on to note that, “Historically, the [housing assignment] process has been overseen by ResLife director Clea Taylor. But due to her absence, Nicholson and Opel were playing Taylor’s role without much documentation on the proceedings.”
“It pains me to know that the housing process has been problematic for students this year in my absence,” Taylor wrote In correspondence with the Quest. “Room registration is a process that I have taken great pride in during my tenure at Reed.”
Taylor’s suit accuses Reed College of “Failure to Accommodate” and “Discriminatory Adverse Employment Action,” as well as “OFLA [Oregon Family Leave Act] Discrimination, Interference, and Retaliation.” It claims that, after working remotely for 16 months during the COVID-19 pandemic without complaint from the College, the College’s insistence that she cannot fulfill her job duties remotely constitutes a bad faith attempt to deny her request for “reasonable accommodation.” She also claims that their decision to threaten her firing and ultimately place her on leave against her will and without pay was an act of retaliation and bad faith. UItimately, she argues that Reed’s actions qualify as disability discrimination under Oregon laws, which require employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” to individuals who would meet a job’s requirements with or without assistance, and also preclude employers from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights as disabled individuals.
Reed, of course, disputes these claims. They allege in their filings that Taylor’s characterization of the situation does not paint an accurate picture of the truth. Reed asserts that they acted in good faith to the best of their ability, but that Taylor’s communication with them was uncooperative and that her requested accommodations were unreasonable for them to meet; their filings argue that the duties of Taylor’s job, such as meeting with students and supervising other ResLife employees, require her to do her work in person. In the June 10th communication sent the same day Reed College was served legal papers, Cypress Williams goes over Reed’s alleged understanding of Taylor’s accommodation needs, noting that Taylor’s healthcare provider recommended entirely remote meetings and supervision, as well as “No 1:1 meetings with students (in person or virtually) who are not previously known to [Taylor].” The communications cites these alleged accommodation requests, as well as the fact that there is “no estimated end date to these limitations,” as unreasonable. Furthermore, Reed alleges that Taylor “failed to mitigate” the suffering she blames Reed for, and thus should not be granted monetary compensation.
Assistant Director of HR Cypress Williams did not respond to requests for comment. Reed’s public relations representatives at RW Jones Agency also did not respond to requests for comment.
At press time it is not clear when, if at all, the case will go to court. The lawsuit is still in its early stages, and if a trial date has been set, that information is not publicly available. If Taylor and Reed College don’t settle out of court, Taylor has demanded the case be tried by a jury of her peers