A former College of DuPage grant writer has sued the school on claims officials fired her because of medical problems and as an act of retaliation, according to court records.
Jennifer Wittstock, who filed suit last month, worked at the school from May 2010 until March 2011. During that time, she endured harassment and discriminatory actions by a supervisor. Wittstock, of Oswego, also contends a congenital disease she has had since birth qualifies her for protection from an unjust employment termination under the Illinois Human Rights Act.
“My life and the lives of my family have been tremendously affected by the actions of the college’s officials,” Wittstock stated in an email. “I am relieved I will have the opportunity to present evidence of these actions to a judge and to a jury.”
A COD spokesman said the school could not comment on pending litigation. The case is scheduled for an August hearing.
According to the lawsuit, Wittstock complained to the human resources department about a supervisor’s actions which included harassment before and after Wittstock underwent a bilateral mastectomy. Wittstock told management “that she feared for her physical safety on three separate occasions.”
The female supervisor, is referenced in the lawsuit, but not named as a defendant. She was found to have “engaged in unprofessional conduct” and Wittstock was reassigned to work under a new supervisor, court documents show.
In January 2011, Wittstock was diagnosed with hypertension. Her high blood pressure put her at risk for heart attack or stroke. Within a week of that diagnosis, Wittstock was told she would be required to again do some work for her former supervisor, the suit claims.
Although Wittstock was told she would not be required to have direct contact with that supervisor, Wittstock stated interaction was necessary in order to complete the assigned work properly. That potential situation left Wittstock concerned over a reprisal of past harassment and how the interaction would impact her hypertension, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit describes a meeting between Wittstock and a now-former director with the college’s foundation, during which the director said no one wanted to negatively affect Wittstock’s high blood pressure. The female director, who is also not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, empathized with Wittstock over the life experiences she had endured, documents show.
Wittstock was allowed to go home early the day of the meeting and experienced chest pains later that night. She stayed home from work the next two days – a Thursday and Friday – because of the chest pains and dangerously high blood pressure. Officials then asked her to bring in a “return to work” note signed by a doctor to cover those two days, although Wittstock said policy didn’t call for such a document until after five consecutive days of missed work.
When Wittstock returned to work the following Monday she was placed on “non-disciplinary suspension” for her conduct with during the meeting with the director, the lawsuit claims. Wittstock was fired March 31, 2011, and, in turn, filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights in April 2011. IDHR later notified Wittstock she could sue COD, records show. Wittstock also claims her firing was in retaliation for the complaint against the supervisor.