The former director of DuPage Animal Care and Control has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against DuPage County saying she was fired for taking medical leave.
Kerry Vinkler said in October she felt "betrayed" after being let go from her $89,473-a-year job overseeing the Wheaton animal shelter. The Hickory Hills resident was terminated Oct. 19 after spending about two weeks out of the office with a medical issue.
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Vinkler's lawsuit, filed Monday, is seeking unspecified damages for lost wages, monetary losses and emotional distress.
DuPage officials and Vinkler declined to comment Monday about the lawsuit. An email sent to Vinkler's attorney wasn't immediately returned.
The DuPage County state's attorney's office said Vinkler's right to due process was fully protected.
According to Vinkler's termination letter, which she provided to the Daily Herald in October, there were concerns about the way she was running the shelter. They included Vinkler's alleged inability to account for her time spent outside the office, falsification of time sheets, failure to communicate with staff and failure to ensure the appropriate administration of animal control policies and guidelines.
"These actions," the letter read, "have caused a lack of direction and have negatively impacted the relationships, both internal and external, for the Animal Control Department."
But the lawsuit says the county's stated reason for firing Vinkler "was a pretext for unlawful retaliation for (the) plaintiff taking needed medical leave."
In late September, Vinkler became "very ill" with what eventually was diagnosed as an overactive thyroid gland. Her symptoms included loss of appetite, loss of memory, loss of equilibrium and vision impairment, according to the lawsuit.
Due to her illness, Vinkler was unable to work from Oct. 2 through Oct. 17. During her time off, which included a hospital stay, Vinkler kept the county informed of her status though emails to her staff members and her direct supervisor, Beth Welch, the administrator of the DuPage Convalescent Center, the lawsuit says.
When Vinkler returned to work Oct. 17, she was confronted about the allegations of falsifying time records and accused of inadequately supervising her staff members, according to the lawsuit. She then was placed on administrative leave.
Because she wasn't allowed inside the shelter, Vinkler has said she couldn't get the paperwork she needed to refute the allegations. Her termination came two days later.
The lawsuit alleges Vinkler's firing was a violation of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
Vinkler filed an appeal with the county in an effort to get her job back, but a Termination and Suspension Review Board upheld the decision to let her go, officials said.
"She went through the entire process," said Paul Darrah, spokesman for the state's attorney's office. "Our office stands by the decision."