- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A former investigator has sued the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, saying she was forced to quit the agency because of harassment and the failure to accommodate her health issues.

Cheryl Williams, 56, of Penn Hills, who is black, told The Associated Press on Monday that she was harassed after saying that discrimination complaints weren’t being fully and properly investigated by the civil rights agency. She resigned in January after 15 years but contends she was more or less forced to quit because of a lack of accommodations for her physical problems including a bad back and the alleged harassment.

“I’m a person who believes in my rights and I fought for them,” Williams said. “I’m a very vocal person when it comes to civil rights and discrimination.”

Williams said complained to superiors that the agency’s Pittsburgh office wasn’t properly managing the discrimination complaints the agency handles. “I know of cases where they would take those cases and sit on them for years, two years, three years, or four years and say, ‘You know what, we don’t believe there was discrimination,’” then order workers to change the agency’s findings to reflect that, she said.

PHRC spokeswoman Shannon Powers said she can’t comment on Williams’ discrimination claims. But Powers said Williams has been denied unemployment benefits since she resigned and is appealing that decision in Commonwealth Court.

Williams’ 17-page federal lawsuit filed Monday doesn’t address her specific claims of mismanagement. Rather, it focuses on a lack of accommodations for an unspecified musculoskeletal injury she suffered shortly after she was hired in 1999, related fibromyalgia and an incident in 2004, when she sprained her back. That happened when a chair slid out from under her after the agency rearranged her work station without her knowledge and put a clear rubber mat beneath her chair, she said.

Williams contends she needed voice-activated software, a telephone headset, a raised computer monitor and other equipment to do her job pain-free, but that the agency provided only some of the equipment some of the time. She also contends she requested a work station within four feet of a computer printer but was denied it even after such a work station was vacated by another employee.

Eventually, Williams was disciplined for not following policies about requesting time off, though she contends other “non-disabled, younger, Caucasian” employees were not similarly disciplined.

Williams is seeking more than $450,000 in lost and back wages, legal fees and other damages.

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