Former Employee Sues, Accusing Moda Of Discrimination and Retaliation

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An employee who was laid off by Moda Health Plan during the pandemic last year is suing the company, claiming she was singled out because of a health condition.

The suit, filed this week in Multnomah County Circuit Court in Portland, seeks $450,000 in damages.

The plaintiff, Teresa Clow, was hired in 2016 as a program liaison, the suit says. She was laid off last May, two months after taking one month’s leave to seek treatment for alcoholism. The suit accuses Moda of retaliating against her because of the leave and for punishing her for having a disability. It indicated that until then, she had been a good employee.

“Plaintiff had a good relationship with both coworkers and management during the first several years of her employment,” the suit says. “She never received any disciplinary action at any point during her employment.”

Portland-based Moda said it cannot comment on the suit because it has not yet been served. Moda is a for-profit company offering a range of Medicare, dental and group insurance plans.

The lawsuit says that Clow “suffers from alcoholism” -- “a serious health condition.” Last February, she asked her manager, David Vanderwal, to take a month of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Her request was granted, the suit says.

“The purpose of plaintiff’s leave was to attend treatment for alcoholism,” the complaint says.

As her insurer, Moda had access to her medical records, it says.

Clow was on leave from Feb. 20 through March 29 last year, the complaint says. When she returned, staff were working from home. A month later, she and four other employees were informed that they were being furloughed “due to COVID and its impact on business.” 

Around the same time, Moda spokesman Jonathan Nicholas, told The Lund Report that 5% of its staff had been put on furlough following a drop in claims in Oregon and Alaska. With 1,400 employees, that meant that about 70 people were not paid though they maintained their benefits. https://www.thelundreport.org/content/moda-health-furloughs-dozens-staff...

He said no one was laid off and that Moda expected to bring everyone back.

“As economic activity resumes across health care throughout the communities we serve, we anticipate most of our furloughed employees will have an opportunity to return to Moda,” Nicholas told The Lund Report at the time. “Our current projections call for the full range of activity to gradually return to normal over the next few weeks.” 

The lawsuit says that in May, Clow heard from coworkers that managers were working on a plan to bring them back. It says she sent a text to Vanderwal, asking what was going on but that he didn’t respond.

Later that day a human resources manager told her that she was being laid off, the suit says. Moda offered her a severance package but she didn’t sign it, the complaint says. Severance packages typically offer money in exchange for a promise not to file a lawsuit.

The complaint says Clow was the only one on her team of more than 30 people who was laid off.

“At the time she was furloughed, plaintiff was working with multiple departments on several projects, and her workload was greater than ever,” the suit says.

It accuses Moda of discrimination, failing to accommodate a disability, retaliation for invoking disability-related rights, leave retaliation and wrongful discharge and other charges. Filed by Christina Stephenson of Meyer Stephenson, Portland based employment attorneys, the complaint seeks a jury trial.

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LynnePDX.

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