This story has been updated with comments from an attorney for the former APS employee.
A former employee of Arizona Public Service is alleging that supervisors at the utility company discriminated and retaliated against her after she reported being sexually harassed at work, then fired her after she requested accommodations for cancer treatment.
The ex-employee, Cristina Miller, filed a lawsuit in Arizona U.S. District Court on Thursday, claiming she was fired unlawfully and seeking damages over seven alleged counts of discrimination, retaliation and interference in violation of state and federal laws.
According to the lawsuit, a supervisor repeatedly retaliated against Miller, whose title was "real time energy trader," in 2018 after she reported that a manager had sexually harassed her and a coworker the previous year. The supervisor gave her a poor performance review, placed her on a “performance improvement plan,” and denied her both a pay raise and a bonus, she claims.
The supervisor also wrote her up for a policy violation that “was actually committed by a co-worker,” the lawsuit said. Although the supervisor said that everyone on her team would be disciplined, Miller was the only one, it noted, alleging that Miller was targeted because she had reported the harassment.
In August 2018, the manager who harassed Miller, the supervisor who wrote her up, and three other male employees were investigated and fired for harassment and retaliation, the lawsuit said.
But two months later, when Miller asked another superior to review the poor performance reviews that she believed were in retaliation for speaking up against harassment, he said there was nothing he could do.
Things took a turn for the worse for Miller at the end of November, when her cancer returned, according to the lawsuit. She asked for reasonable accommodations and filled out the necessary paperwork so that she could take a leave of absence for cancer treatment.
On December 7, supervisors called Miller in to a meeting and told her she no longer had a job, citing “the personal conditions you are going through,” the lawsuit stated.
Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against people with disabilities. Cancer typically qualifies as a disability.
The Family and Medical Leave Act grants employees unpaid, job-protected time off for family or medical reasons, including serious health conditions like cancer.
Miller is claiming that APS violated those laws, plus Title VII, which bars employment discrimination, and the Arizona Civil Rights Act.
According to the lawsuit, Miller filed a discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March and received a notice of the right to sue, which the commission issues after determining that a plaintiff has grounds for a claim.
None of the violations alleged in the lawsuit stemmed from the retaliation that Miller said she endured for reporting sexual harassment. James Weiler, one of two attorneys representing Miller, said that those claims fell outside the allowable window for bringing a discrimination charge to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Ultimately, we’re focused on what led to… the discipline and the termination,” Weiler said.
Miller did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. She began working for APS in 2012, her LinkedIn profile shows.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Suzanne Trevino, a spokesperson for APS, said the company doesn’t comment on active litigation or personnel matters.
APS is the largest electric utility in Arizona. It has come under fire in recent months as elected officials and customers alike question its ethics and high prices and condemn what they see as corruption and greed on the part of a company that sells electricity to more than 1.2 million captive customers.
Read the full complaint below: