Berkeley Lab, regents face lawsuit for alleged disability, gender discrimination

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Update 4/19/2017: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from Katherine Eidson’s attorney. 

Katherine Eidson, an employee at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, filed a lawsuit against the lab and the UC Board of Regents on Friday.

The lawsuit alleges that the Berkeley Lab and the regents violated the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. In the suit, Eidson alleges that she has faced discrimination for her gender and disability, and she has also been denied equal pay.

Berkeley Lab spokesperson Jon Weiner declined to comment on the lawsuit, stating that the lab does not comment on ongoing litigation. UC spokespeople could not be reached for comment as of press time.

According to the complaint, Eidson began working as an electrician at the Berkeley Lab in 2001. In 2006, Eidson fell from a ladder, which caused her to suffer from a traumatic brain injury and required her to undergo 53 weeks of rehabilitation. When she returned to work, she was unable to work off ladders or from uncontrolled heights.

The complaint states that Eidson was assigned to lead the lab’s fire alarm crew in May 2010, after the former lead retired. The complaint alleges that she worked this job in addition to performing her other duties, often forcing her to work 12 hours a day or more. The complaint also alleges that Eidson was expected to carry out the responsibilities of a supervisor without the official title.

In February 2011, Eidson was informed by her then-supervisor that instead of receiving the hourly wage she had formerly been paid, she would now be paid as a salaried supervisory employee and would therefore not be compensated for any overtime hours she worked. Her supervisor allegedly justified the change by citing “the expense related to the number of hours” Eidson had been working.

“Although Ms. Eidson did not have the title or classification of ‘supervisor,’ she was required, in the Life Safety Systems Specialist position, to take on all supervisory duties and to participate in all supervisory functions,” the complaint alleges. “Among her co-workers, Ms. Eidson was the only woman performing supervisory duties without the appropriate classification or pay.”

According to the complaint, Eidson was assigned under the supervision of Mike Jang, an acting maintenance process manager for the day shift, in December 2011. The complaint alleges that Jang continuously excluded Eidson from meetings and began removing her supervisory duties, although her position title did not change.

Jang met with Eidson in August 2013 to discuss her performance evaluation, according to the complaint. The complaint alleges that Jang said her colleagues had “little respect for her” because they did not believe that she deserved or could do the job.

“(Jang) told (Eidson) that the men did not know how to work with women and that there was nothing he or she could do about it,” the complaint alleges. “He ended the conversation by saying that there was no way for her to get the respect of her colleagues, and that she was put into a job that was a bad fit for women.”

Eidson issued a formal complaint against the lab Jan. 3, 2014, but it was denied May 7, 2014. On April 30, 2014, Eidson was allegedly transferred to the position of document specialist for commissioning against her will, which the complaint alleges was because of her medical needs and complaints against Jang. The complaint also alleges that the transfer “removed (her) entirely from her 32-year career as an electrician.”

Eidson’s lawyer, Darci Burrell, alleged that the Berkeley Lab administrators forced Eidson out of her job and into a position where she is no longer doing the work she had done for decades.

“I always hope for justice, whatever that looks like for my client,” Burrell said in an email.

Eidson filed a charge of discrimination with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which issued her the right-to-sue letter April 21, 2016.

This lawsuit comes about two months after a former Berkeley Lab employee also filed a suit against the lab for discriminating against her disability.

The complaint states that Eidson is asking for compensation for her unpaid wages and damages, among other costs.

Contact Sunny Tsai at [email protected].