TEXAS CITY — A federal lawsuit accuses College of the Mainland in Texas City of wrongfully terminating an employee after she had brain surgery.

Attorney Anthony P. Griffin filed suit last month on behalf of Cheryl Odom, a former coordinator with the college’s teacher certification program.

The lawsuit filed March 18 in Galveston’s federal court accused the college of retaliating against Odom for her use of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

A spokeswoman for the college declined to comment Wednesday.

The act allows eligible employees of covered employers to take up to 12 weeks each year of unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The college hired Odom in 2003, and she took leave under the act from Sept. 16, 2011, to Jan. 3, 2012, to have brain surgery and to allow for recovery, the lawsuit states.

Although reduction in force was the purported reason for Odom’s termination, she contends she was fired because she used the act to take time off from work, the lawsuit claims.

Before Odom used the act, she had no adverse performance evaluations, but about a month after returning to work, she received a negative evaluation listing 31 problems with her performance, the lawsuit claims.

The problems were coupled with the redaction of documents from Odom’s personnel file that referenced her possessing a master’s degree in education, the lawsuit claims.

Odom went from being a competent employee to being attacked immediately upon her return by evaluations, budget moves and emails discussing her medical condition and leave, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit accuses the college of hiring others to fill Odom’s duties, retaining others less qualified and failing to consider her for positions for which she qualified.

The lawsuit seeks back and future wages and benefits, among other things.

Contact reporter Chris Paschenko at 409-683-5241 or chris.paschenko@galvnews.com.

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(5) comments

sverige1
Lars Faltskog

I wonder if this wrongly fired person thought this was "a great place to work" - while she still had the job. Those RIFs can be smokescreens for someone in power just wanting to get rid of someone willy nilly.

George Croix

Sept. 16 to Jan 3, inclusive, would be 110 days total.
FMLA allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12 month period, a week being the employee's normal work week for purposes of calculation. As such, scheduled days off and holidays recognized by the employer are not part of the calculation for FMLA used. If an employee was normally scheduled to work 7 days a week on their job with never a day off for any reason, they would be allowed under the FMLA to take a cumulative 84 days off without pay and without penalty in a 12 month period. Work a 'normal' 40hr/5 day week then you get up to 480hrs/60 unpaid days off. However, an employee may request, OR an employer may require, that the employee's accumulated sick leave, vacation, or personal time off be used as PART or ALL of the FMLA time off requested, and, if so, the time off is covered under FMLA rules against penalizing the employee for taking it (note that the requested/required 'part or all' is not in addition to the 12 weeks of FMLA, it's a part of it counting toward the total allowed time period).
This is how it was done not so long ago when I was one of the ones supervising.
If such is still the same, then there seems to be a disconnect somewhere with the 110 days off mentioned in the article and the maximum time allowed under FMLA of 84 days even IF a workweek was a full 7 days, which, at COM it would not be. It would be less.
Perhaps the difference is that COM allowed the employee to take their paid time off (vacation, SL, etc) in addition to unpaid FMLA time to get to 110 days? If so, then what would be the beef, unless the basis for the suit is claimed retaliation alone. If so, and if true, THAT would be a violation of the FMLA by the employer, and somebody's britches needs dusting for doing that.
The FMLA, unabused, is a good thing for employees, and allows them needed time to do the specialized things covered under the law, without penalty to them. They do NOT have to get their same job back if gone long enough that the position must be filled, but must be given one of equivalent value and benefit. It also cannot count against them as absenteeism.
BUT it's also required of the employee wanting to use the FMLA to properly request it and fill out the paperwork for doing so. It is not (or was not) an automatic thing that the employer is required to remind the employee of. Failure to complete the required request/paperwork means no FMLA coverage, and the time off taken may, may, be handled as the employer's rules allow.
Personally, I always valued my crew and/or team members highly enough to have the common courtesy to remind them of FMLA when they faced a need to be off that could be covered by it.
Only once did I have a person try to scam the system (now working elsewhere), but a couple of times people never filled out the required paperwork, and thus the time off counted against their absenteeism. I couldn't change the law and workplace rules to aid their bad memory or neglect of responsibility, no matter how good an employee they were. Fair to one means fair to all.
More to the story than told so far, it seems.

JBG JBG

Everybody knows I'm an old plow boy from East Texas who don't know much, so can somebody "learn me" if COM administrators are drinking the same WATER as the LMISD leadership is drinking? I mean, I'm just trying to find out what's going on.

Dorothy Holt

There are two sides in every lawsuit. Until the case has been resolved it is unfair to assume guilt.

LouisCarol Wortham

Unfair? When you find feathers where there used to be a canary, it's fair to take a long thorough look at the cat.

COM is so mismanaged, every few months someone has to sue them because they fouled up again. Their HR dept. seems not to have a clue about employment law.

I was a student of Cheryl Odom's at COM and have been successfully using what she taught me for seven or eight years now. I would bet my mama's bottom dollar the only question at issue in the lawsuit is how much she is going to get, not whether she is going to prevail.

Cat, canary.

Even if her dismissal was appropriate, COM again didn't handle it well enough for Odom and her attorney not to think there was some of our tax money available to them. That whole organization needs a major overhaul.

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