CHICAGO (STMW)– A one-time Stroger Hospital lab technician is suing her former employer, alleging she was fired rather than put her in a new job after an illness left her legally blind.

Carmen Chu, now in her late 50s, worked for more than 17 years in the pathology department as a medical laboratory technologist, where she handled screenings and test results, her attorney Timothy Bridge told the Sun-Times.

In November 2006, she was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy in both eyes, leaving her legally blind, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in Cook County Circuit Court. Chu underwent surgery and was on medical leave for three years and was preparing to return to work in March 2009 — albeit a different position considering the problems with her eyesight, Bridge said.

But her request for reassignment to work as a messenger or translator was rejected.

“It was a service messenger job – basically you are a messenger” at the hospital, Bridge said. “It was not as high powered as a lab person or a lab tech, but it was a job. She went to rehab, got specialized glasses and earnestly got herself back in to a position to return to work. Cook County (human resources) asked her to do that, (but) once she completed everything they asked her to do, they pulled the rug out from under her and walked away.”

Chu was officially removed from the payroll in March of this year and is now living on social security, Bridge said.

“The Cook County Human Resources people had identified a job for her and as you can see from our lawsuit when they were actually approached for the finalization – Cook County withdrew, they didn’t engage to complete her placement.”

Bridge said they simply gave up on his client.

“They figured she could go on disability, I guess. But this is someone with a disability who wants to work. She’s collateral – she’s old, she’s disabled and they’re not interested in dealing with her,” he said.

Bridge also believes the dismissal was retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint – in the midst of trying to return to work – with the Illinois Department of Human Rights over the matter. The IDHR dismissed the complaint, saying it wasn’t within their jurisdiction to handle the matter, according to court records.

Chu, who listed Cook County government as a defendant, for a job “commensurate with her knowledge, skills and abilities with reasonable accommodation” is suing for back pay and damages.

A spokeswoman for county board president Toni Preckwinkle said the office hadn’t had a chance to the review the lawsuit and could not comment.

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