Autism Speaks Accused Of Disability Discrimination
The mother of a teen with autism is suing Autism Speaks for allegedly rescinding a job offer after she requested workplace accommodations so she could care for her son.
Simone Greggs, 44, says that officials at Autism Speaks violated the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act when the nonprofit took back an offer of employment this spring just days before she was scheduled to start work.
In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia earlier this month, Greggs said that she was supposed to start her new job as a walk events manager at Autism Speaks’ Washington, D.C. office in early May after successfully completing five different interviews, a pre-employment background check and a drug test.
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But Greggs said everything changed after she asked her new employer if they would accommodate an alternate work schedule or allow her to work from home on Wednesdays when her son’s school let out early.
Greggs was told that such accommodation would not be possible. She then made other arrangements for her son, but was subsequently informed by Autism Speaks managers that they were “rescinding the employment offer because they did not want to make any accommodations for the care of her autistic child,” the court filing says.
In her suit, Greggs is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. Nonetheless, she said the legal action is not about money but principle for her. Once a supporter of Autism Speaks, Greggs said she is outraged.
“They say one thing and they do another,” the Upper Marlboro, Md. mom said of the nonprofit. “You can’t say that you’re for helping families with children with autism and then you can’t give me an accommodation.”
Balancing work with caregiving obligations is often a struggle for parents of those with autism. A 2009 study found that moms of children on the spectrum were interrupted at work one out of every four days compared to less than one in 10 days for other moms. Another study, published this spring, found that moms of children with autism earn an average of 56 percent less than parents of typically developing kids. Accordingly, several researchers have cited workplace flexibility as a top need for parents raising children with special needs.
In Greggs’ case, in addition to losing out on the job she thought was lined up, she turned down another job offer from the Democratic National Committee in April because she expected to be working at Autism Speaks, the complaint said.
“It was devastating,” said Greggs who has also filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “I couldn’t believe that this happened.”
The lawsuit, which was served Monday, names Autism Speaks’ former president Mark Roithmayr; Ann Gibbons, executive director of the group’s Washington, D.C. office; Tracey Wilbanks, regional director; and Pat DeSaules and Linda LePage in the organization’s human resources department.
Autism Speaks addressed the matter in a statement to Disability Scoop late Thursday.
“Autism Speaks is committed to employing parents and other family members of people with autism, as well as individuals on the spectrum,” the organization said.