A former Lancaster Mennonite employee who claims he was wrongfully terminated and discriminated against because of his post-traumatic stress disorder is suing the school over how it handled his employment.
In the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Lancaster County resident Cory Meek alleges the school and two of its top administrators, Superintendent Pam Tieszen and Chief Financial Officer Lorri Hengst, subjected him to “a hostile work environment, denied reasonable accommodation, retaliation for engaging in protected activity and wrongful discharge.”
In doing so, the school deprived Meek of his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and violated the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, the legal complaint states.
Meek is disabled and has had post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression since 2014, when he discovered his girlfriend brutally murdered in her home, according to the complaint.
News reports show he was dating Brownstown Elementary School sixth-grade teacher Nicole Mathewson at the time. Mathewson was murdered by then-16-year-old Marcus Rutter and then-25-year-old Thomas Moore in December 2014 in a burglary at her Lancaster apartment. Rutter is serving 54 years to life, and Moore is serving a life sentence.
In his lawsuit, Meek has requested damages for the loss of revenue he experienced upon his termination as well as damages for “emotional and physical distress, lost career, embarrassment, and humiliation,” and reasonable attorney’s fees.
Tieszen, in a brief statement through the school’s spokesperson, said, “Since this is part of an active case, we are not able to comment at this time.”
Meek’s Lancaster-based attorney, Nina Shapiro, did not respond to a request for comment. Efforts to reach Meek on Thursday were unsuccessful.
According to the complaint, Meek was hired by the private religious school as its director of technology in May 2019. During his interview, Meek told Tieszen and Hengst about his disability stemming from Mathewson's death, according to the complaint.
‘Targeted and singled-out’
On July 1, 2019, Meek’s first day on the job, the school’s network and systems administrator resigned, according to the lawsuit. Meek alleges his responsibilities essentially doubled, as he worked past the normal school day and during winter vacation due to the vacancy.
Starting in November 2019, when Meek provided information from his licensed therapist about his disability at the request of Tieszen and Hengst, Meek’s “work conditions changed for the worse,” according to the complaint.
Meek alleges he was moved from his workspace to an office down the hall from Tieszen and Hengst away from his assistant and technology necessary for his work. This made him feel “targeted and singled-out” and allegedly made his job more strenuous.
In January, Meek approached the administrators and protested the “harsh work conditions placed on him, a member of a protected class for the disabled,” the complaint states. A month later, Meek alleges, he was given an ultimatum: resign or take an involuntary unpaid medical leave for 30 days. Meek chose the latter.
Tieszen and Hengst later presented Meek with a “punitive Performance Improvement Plan” and “threatened (Meek) that he must have his physician, not his treating therapist, clear him for return back to full-time work by March 31, 2020, or lose his job,” according to the complaint.
Meek’s physician cleared his return to work part-time beginning April 2 and full-time two weeks later, but the school denied the brief leave extension, the complaint states.
The school also allegedly rejected Meek’s plan to return to work remotely — an accommodation afforded to all faculty and staff at the time because of the COVID-19 shutdown.
On March 31, Meek was terminated, the complaint states.
Meek’s LinkedIn page states he is currently on sabbatical and is a freelance web developer.
He has a bachelor’s degree in software engineering from University of Pennsylvania, according to his resume and LinkedIn page. Before he was hired by Lancaster Mennonite, Meek was a school bus driver, a package handler at UPS, a restaurant server, a software architect and developer at bubblereview.com and a webmaster at Lancaster Bible College.