Former worker alleges Toyota violated medical leave act

WINFIELD, W.Va. — A former employee at the Toyota plant in Putnam County is accusing the company of wrongly firing her for seeking medical leave to address her methamphetamine problem.

In a lawsuit filed on Monday in Putnam Circuit Court, Melisa Rife, who lives in Milton and worked on the assembly line at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia plant in Buffalo, states on March 9 she approached her assistant manager to tell her about her meth use. The supervisor, according to the suit, then called the night shift human resources manager, who told Rife to give him blood, hair and urine samples.

Rife says the human resources manager also told her to contact an Employee Assistance Program/Rehabilitation, which Toyota’s team member handbook states the company offers to employees with drug or alcohol problems should they “voluntarily request assistance before the Company requests testing or detects the problem.”

The handbook goes on to state that, “Those who seek assistance will not be subject to corrective action for the substance abuse so long as they comply with all provisions imposed by the Company.”

Rife said she received approval for eight therapy sessions, but March 20, while she was allegedly on medical leave, Toyota told her she had to take a drug test. She complied and was fired April 4 after the results allegedly showed she had taken drugs she didn’t have a prescription for. She said she hadn’t finished her rehabilitation sessions.

The suit states she was making about $48,000 a year, not including health benefits. Among other things, she’s seeking her job back, back wages and punitive and compensatory damages.

Sandra Maynard, an external affairs specialist for Toyota, said on Wednesday that the company currently isn’t aware of any legal action, but said normally Toyota doesn’t comment on personnel issues.

Rife argues her request for help with her substance abuse was protected by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, which also made her eligible for medical leave. Her suit also takes issue with Toyota allegedly requesting a drug test while she was on medical leave, and with Toyota allegedly not providing required information on the FMLA, including how long her medical leave lasted.

“The Defendant has unreasonably intruded on Plaintiff’s privacy when it requested her to take a drug test after she had made a request for FMLA leave and while Plaintiff did, in fact, believe she was on a medical leave of absence from work,” the suit states.

In addition to wrongful termination and invasion of privacy, the suit also accuses Toyota of retaliation and inflicting emotional distress and outrage. The suit also alleges gender discrimination, saying Rife was the only woman out of 25 workers in the “short block” section of the plant and that Toyota has not fired male employees during their participation in rehabilitation programs or following requests for medical leave.

Reach Ryan Quinn at or 304-348-1254.

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