‘Hostile’ retaliation | New York Times sued for allegedly firing accessibility program manager who needed brain surgery

New York Times sued for allegedly firing accessibility program manager who needed brain surgery

The New York Times is being sued by a former disability accessibility manager for firing her shortly after informing them she would be taking medical leave for brain surgery.

First reported by The Daily Beast, the ex-employee, Chandra Carney, also alleges the newspaper retaliated to her raising disability access problems at the company by threatening her with a poor performance review.

Carney is suing the New York Times for retaliation, disability discrimination, and termination that allegedly violated the New York State and City Human Rights Law.

In February 2023, six months into her tenure at the New York Times, Carney informed the New York Times she would need to take medical leave for brain surgery.

Her manager reportedly moved an impending performance review back in the diary and instead instructed Carney to attend a video call.

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Having joined the video call with her manager and a representative from HR, she was allegedly told she was being let go with immediate effect as it was “time to part ways.”

Despite being accused of threatening Carney with poor performance reviews, The New York Times never placed her on any performance improvement plan which it uses as a model for performance management.

The suit also cites “glowing” reviews from colleagues about her work. One former colleague at the New York Times, a staff software engineer for design systems and accessibility, describes her in a LinkedIn review written in March 2023 as “a fantastic asset” to the company. “She has an extremely strong expertise in Accessibility and led the creation of our accessibility practice,” he says. “It is an absolute pleasure working with Chandra.”

However, Carney was fired and says she was “left facing an upcoming major brain surgery, with no income and with health insurance that would expire while she was recovering.”

The New York Times disputes Carney’s claims and plans to defend against them. “We care deeply about the health and safety of all of our colleagues, and treat such matters with the utmost of care,” a spokesperson says in a statement to The Daily Beast.

“The personnel decision was based solely on documented performance issues,” the statement continues. “The company did not know the full details of her medical condition until after her departure. We remain confident that The Times was justified in the actions we took and plan to defend against the suit vigorously.”

Carney will seek compensatory damages for lost wages and benefits and punitive damages for emotional distress and humiliation.

The New York Times hired Carney as a Senior Accessibility Program Manager, tasked with kick-starting and leading an in-house accessibility program. According to Carney’s LinkedIn, she “launched the first accessibility practice at the company, including the vision, roadmap, and strategy for a cross-company program and team.”

Carney formerly worked as an accessibility lead at Etsy and Aetna, a CVS Health Company.

However, having conducted an assessment of disability and accessibility at the New York, and established the strategy for tackling issues she identified in the initial audit, Carney argues her manager, an associate director, attempted to limit and sabotage her work.

According to the complaint, the manager “rebuffed her efforts to address accessibility throughout the company,” and attempted to confine Carney’s plan to solve accessibility problems to certain areas of the New York Times in a bid to reduce costs.

Carney states her attempts to emphasize the legal risks caused by limiting her plan, including to the New York Times’ legal department, was met with a “non too subtle” threat of retaliation. She believes any further attempts to raise accessibility issues would mean she would “receive a bad performance review.”

The associate director allegedly suggested “point blank that she did not want her continuing to push this issue and reminded her that performance reviews were coming up soon.”

Furthermore, The New York Times faces accusations that the associate director became “increasingly hostile” toward Carney, berating her in front of her colleagues who, as detailed, gave her performance “glowing marks.”

Rising retaliation a concern for HR

Other high-profile lawsuits concerning retaliation have hit the headlines in recent weeks. A SpaceX worker is suing the company for allegedly punishing her through pay inequity and unfair workloads after she complained about a former manager who sexually abused her.

Boeing has also been found to have a culture where employees feared raising safety concerns due to the threat of retaliation.

Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuits, it prompts HR teams to be more intentional about rooting out retaliation for employees highlighting concerns with accessibility practices, safety issues, sexual harassment, or other cases of dangerous workplace culture and practices.

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