Hassan Defended Corporations Against Medical Leave Suits

New Hampshire Democrats' legal career at odds with campaign rhetoric on paid leave

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan
Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan / AP
November 4, 2016

Gov. Maggie Hassan has campaigned on her support for paid family leave, but as a corporate attorney Hassan defended large companies against allegations of medical leave violations, according to court records obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Hassan began her career as a healthcare lawyer before joining Sullivan, Weinstein and McQuay in 1996. She worked as a corporate attorney in that capacity, taking on numerous cases involving wrongful termination and Family Medical Leave Act suits. In 1997, she defended Scudder Investor Services against a suit from a former employee who claimed that he was fired following his recovery from a brain hemorrhage.

Francis Alspaugh, a top sales performer at the company, suffered the illness and underwent brain surgery in 1993, which left him unable to drive a car for six months, according to the complaint filed in Massachusetts Superior Court. Alspaugh alleged that his supervisor gave him unreachable sales goals and at one point asked him, "Do You Feel That You Are The Same Francis Alspaugh As You Were A Year Ago Before Surgery."

The company fired Alspaugh in 1995. He sued, alleging that it failed to pay him commissions and did not properly follow the Family Medical Leave Act, which was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

Hassan's legal team attempted to have the FMLA violation dismissed in response to the suit. The company argued that he was not eligible for protection for his medical leave because he did not work enough hours over the previous 12 months—when he was recovering from brain surgery. They also said that the complaint was not filed within the proper statute of limitations. The two parties eventually settled the case.

Hassan did not return request for comment about her legal career and the FMLA cases that she was involved in.

The two-term Democratic governor, who is challenging Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, has made paid medical and family leave reform a centerpiece of her campaign. Her campaign has attacked Ayotte on the issue and Hassan has pledged to back Hillary Clinton's planned expansion of guaranteed 12 weeks of paid leave for workers. Ayotte has said she supports leaving that policy up to states, while Hassan wants to pass a federal law.

Republican Party Chairman Jennifer Horn said that Hassan's legal career demonstrates that she takes a hypocritical approach to family leave and was more than happy to "make millions in the private sector" defending corporations against workers.

"This reminds voters that like Hillary Clinton, Maggie Hassan is a sanctimonious politician who says one thing while trying to advance her political career and does another while trying to make millions in the private sector," Horn said.

Hassan worked on other cases in which she fought against workers who alleged that their employers violated the Family Leave Act.

She personally conducted a deposition on a former hospital worker who filed suit after the company refused to accommodate her following a work-related injury. Elise Russell claimed that Cooley Dickinson Hospital failed to accommodate chronic tendinitis she developed while working as an administrator at the hospital.

When she returned to work, the hospital denied returning her to her senior status and that managers discriminated against her due to her chronic condition by allowing her to work in the laundry room. Hassan grilled Russell for several hours of deposition on the case, asking wide-ranging questions about the nature of her injuries, according to court records.

Hassan's legal team argued that Russell was not able to perform her work and that the hospital did not have any openings. The hospital said in a brief that it did not have to offer Russell services beyond the one-year leave it promised for employees. The hospital denied Russell, who took 15 months to recover, additional leave so she could fully recover from her condition. Hassan's legal team argued that additional leave was not "reasonable."

"The defendant's efforts to explore the possibility of a rehabilitation position for the plaintiff went beyond the requirements," the brief said. "A request for an extended leave was not a reasonable accommodation."

A Superior Court judge was persuaded by Hassan's argument and ruled against Russell.

Three years after the Russell case, Hassan represented Northeastern University against charges that it punished an employee named Pauline Samuel because she missed work while out sick, and "unlawfully fired her because of her handicap."

Samuel said in a complaint that she was forced to miss work after being admitted to a hospital with a "uretral" stone in November 1999. However, her supervisor docked her performance review because of her absences and warned that "failure to improve … attendance 'will result in further disciplinary action,'" according to the complaint. The hospital fired Samuel in 2000 due to poor performance reviews.

Hassan and other university lawyers challenged Samuel's condition as "temporary and short term" in response to the suit.

"The undisputed facts show that the plaintiff was not disabled," the defense argued. "The person who decided to terminate Samuel's employment did not know [about the alleged discrimination] at the time she decided to discharge her."

The two parties settled in 2004.

Horn said that Hassan's legal arguments undermine her claims that she is fighting for New Hampshire families.

"Governor Hassan's phony political rhetoric doesn't match her record as a highly paid corporate lawyer," she said.

The New Hampshire race could determine the Senate majority in 2017 and is one of the most closely watched campaigns in the country. Ayotte holds a 3-point advantage over Hassan, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average.