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The New York Times Sued After Firing Employee Needing Brain Surgery

Jakub Porzycki/Getty
Jakub Porzycki/Getty

A former disability accessibility manager for The New York Times claims the newspaper threatened her with a poor performance review for continuing to sound the alarm over the company’s disability access problems before ultimately firing her shortly after she informed the Times she needed time off for brain surgery.

In a complaint filed in New York County court on Wednesday, Chandra Carney alleges that the newspaper violated the New York State and City Human Rights Law when it terminated her employment last year. She is suing the Times for retaliation and disability discrimination.

Carney’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request from The Daily Beast for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Carney was hired by the newspaper in Sept. 2022 as the senior program manager for disability accessibility, having previously led efforts at Aetna and Etsy to improve those companies’ access for people with disabilities.

Carney claims that after assessing the Times’ accessibility issues and developing a plan for compliance, she reported on those matters and provided that plan to her manager, an associate director of the newspaper. Her boss, according to the complaint, then “rebuffed her efforts to address accessibility throughout the company” and attempted to limit Carney’s duties.

“Instead, the manager tried to confine the plan to only certain areas of THE TIMES to reduce the cost and timeline,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff explained to her manager, that, among other things, failing to provide access across the company created legal risk. Plaintiff also communicated this issue to THE TIMES’ legal department.”

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Calling her manager’s response “startling,” Carney alleges that her superior told her “point blank that she did not want her continuing to push this issue and reminded her that performance reviews were coming up soon.” The lawsuit says that the threat “was non too subtle,” and the message was clear that Carney was not to raise the issues lest she would “receive a bad performance review.”

The complaint asserts that the associate director “became increasingly hostile toward” Carney, would berate her in front of other employees, and kept tabs on whether Carney was still escalating accessibility compliance issues. Meanwhile, the lawsuit adds, Carney received “glowing marks” from her colleagues while her manager held the threat of a bad review over her head.

It was in Feb. 2023, however, that Carney claims the company decided to escalate things when she informed them of her need to take time off for brain surgery.

“Her manager responded by saying that her performance review, which had been scheduled for the next day, would now be moved to the following week. Plaintiff was then advised to attend a video call,” the complaint alleges.

“Plaintiff joined the video call to find her manager and someone from Human Resources attending. Her manager told her that she was being let go immediately because it was ‘time to part ways.’ As noted above, Plaintiff had received glowing marks from across the Company,” the lawsuit continues. “Further, she was never placed on a performance improvement plan, despite the fact that THE TIMES utilizes them as a performance management tool.”

Carney also says that after the paper fired her, she “was left facing an upcoming major brain surgery, with no income and with health insurance that would expire while she was recovering.”

The Times, however, disputed Carney’s “characterization of events,” writing in a statement to The Daily Beast: “We care deeply about the health and safety of all of our colleagues, and treat such matters with the utmost of care.”

“The personnel decision was based solely on documented performance issues,” a spokesperson continued. “The company did not know the full details of her medical condition until after her departure.We remain confident that The Times was justified in the actions we took and plan to defend against the suit vigorously.”

Carney is accusing the Times of retaliation and disability discrimination in violation of the state’s and city’s human rights laws, and is seeking compensatory damages for lost wages and benefits—as well as punitive damages for emotional distress and humiliation.

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