A former longtime Oak Park parking enforcement officer is suing the village for wrongful termination and discrimination after an injury left her unable to boot vehicles.
Oak Park resident Alvia McNeal, who worked for the village for 12 years writing parking tickets, suffered a torn rotator cuff — an injury deemed non-work related but exacerbated by her job — in 2011, according to a lawsuit filed in December in U.S. District Court.
McNeal took a leave of absence to undergo surgery in 2011 and returned to her job in early 2012 with a return-to-work evaluation from Loyola Medical Center recommending that she “limit her lifting, carrying, pulling or pushing not to exceed specified limitations,” according to the lawsuit.
Her attorney, Matthew Pfeiffer of Pfeiffer Law Offices, said the boot, a large metal lock placed on the tires of vehicles with multiple violations, was too heavy for McNeal to lift because of her shoulder injury.
Pfeiffer noted in the lawsuit that McNeal and other parking enforcement officers have been afforded “light duty” status on occasion, relieving them of the duty of installing boot locks on vehicles.
“During such occasion, McNeal would not boot vehicles herself; instead, she would call one of the other officers who was close to her area, and that officer would apply the boot while she prepared the necessary related paperwork,” the lawsuit states.
But on April 26, 2012, McNeal, then-60, was terminated due to her inability to perform what the village stated were “essential functions” of the job.
The lawsuit notes that during her tenure as a parking enforcement officer, she was never subject to disciplinary action by superiors, regularly received pay increases and “was perceived as a leader among her peers.”
Neither McNeal nor Village Attorney Paul Stephanides returned phone calls requesting comment on the case.
The lawsuit claims the village is in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act for failing to allow her to remain on light duty — performing all parking enforcement duties but booting — or placing her in an equivalent position at the village that did not involve heavy lifting.
McNeal, an African American, also says she was discriminated against due to her race and age. Pfeiffer said in a telephone interview that Caucasian employees, some of whom were 20 years her junior, were allowed on occasion to work on “light duty” status and relieved of their duty of placing boots on cars.
She also claims in the lawsuit that the village retaliated against her for reaching out to her union — Service Employees International Union Local 73 — for support.
“SEIU Local 73 demanded to bargain over what they believed to be Oak Park’s unilateral change in the parking enforcement officer’s job description,” the lawsuit states. Pfeiffer noted that nowhere in the job description was booting cars listed as an essential job function.
She was terminated from her position 10 days after contacting the union, he said.
McNeal seeks to be reinstated to her position and compensated for lost wages and benefits and attorney’s fees.
“She lost her job and her home and moved in with one of her kids,” Pfeiffer told Wednesday Journal. “She suffered all kinds of stress, and it’s the first time she ever lost a job.”