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Tony Robbins accused of discriminating against employee who got COVID-19

Tony Robbins accused of discriminating against employee who got COVID-19
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A woman who works for life coach and motivational speaker Tony Robbins filed a lawsuit against him on Wednesday, claiming he refused to accommodate her need to work from home after being hospitalized with a severe case of the coronavirus.

Robbins's employee Despina Kosta alleged he made false claims of helping her by asking a doctor who was a friend of his for care when she was placed in a medically-induced coma, according to a report from The New York Times

Kosta, 52, is accusing Robbins, his company Robbins Research International and his wife Bonnie Robbins of violating multiple disability laws.

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Kosta contracted the coronavirus in April, the Times reports, and was placed in a medically induced coma from April 12 to May 1. She said her recovery was difficult, and she struggled to walk or hold a cellphone.

Kosta said that comments Robbins made on a podcast had caused her distress, according to the Times. During the recording, Robbins allegedly described a female employee of his with a high fever who "got very scared."

“And so she went to the hospital, and then out of fear, she felt short of breath, kind of hyperventilating a little bit, so they immediately put her on a ventilator,” he said, according to the newspaper. 

Robbins claimed that after he found out that she had been put in a medically-induced coma he called a doctor friend who contacted her hospital. Robbins claimed his friend's intervention resulted in a more expedient recovery. 

The characterization and description of the employee was allegedly enough for one of Kosta's clients to contact her after listening to the podcast. Kosta told the Times she was "ashamed" after Robbins described her as a "hysterical female, a weakling.”

When attempting to return to work in July, Kosta asked if she could work fewer hours as she recovered, a request she claims was denied, according to the Times.

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Kosta has worked for Robbins for 18 years as a sales executive, during which she claims she was one of the highest-rated sales employees in the company, earning around $250,000 annually.

A representative for Kosta, J. Christopher Albanese, said his client was not fired, but she has been locked out from accessing her work email or the company database. 

In a statement to The Hill, a representative for Kosta said she was never given a reason as to why she was locked out of her accounts.

Vincent P. White, an attorney working on Kosta's case alongside Albanese told The Hill, "I give Tony credit, I've never seen an employer who locked an employee out of all their work accounts and failed to pay the employee commissions owed to her, later turn around and claim the employee is still employed. That's bold to a level I could not have previously conceived."

White said that Robbins did initially comply with the Family Medical Leave Act to a "minimal extent," but refused to give her enough time to recover.

"Ms. Kosta wants first and foremost to make sure other employees cannot be treated as heartlessly as she was," said White. "After that, she wants to be made whole. Her economic and emotional damages are incalculable."

Jennifer Connelly, a spokeswoman for Robbins, told the Times that the lawsuit is “ridiculous and baseless” and confirmed that Kosta “remains a current employee.” Connelly said the company had provided Kosta with the accommodations she needed, adding it “continues to pay the complete cost of her medical insurance, even though its legal obligation to do so ended in June.”

“Any suggestion by Ms. Kosta that RRI acted unprofessionally or out of compliance with any applicable laws, in her situation or in the regular conduct of its business, is patently false," said Connelly.

The Hill has reached out to a representative for Robbins for comment on the lawsuit. 

Updated 2:35 p.m.