Tony Robbins, the life coach and motivational speaker, discriminated against one of his co-workers by refusing to give her the housing she needed to work from home after contracting a debilitating case of Covid-19 in the spring. This resulted in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.
The lawsuit also alleges that Mr Robbins falsely claimed to have helped the worker recover by asking one of his friends to intervene in her care after she was put on a ventilator in a medically induced coma.
The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan federal court, accuses Mr. Robbins; his firm Robbins Research International; and his wife, Bonnie P. Robbins, known as Sage, for violating several disability laws, including the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities.
The employee Despina Kosta worked for Mr. Robbins for 18 years – the first nine in Europe and the last nine in the USA, where she worked in New York as a sales manager or “personal results specialist”. She was one of the company’s top-rated salespeople, according to the lawsuit.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the lawsuit said, Mr. Robbins downplayed the severity of the coronavirus and urged his team to continue selling in-person events. Ms Kosta claims she has raised concerns about the approach but has been ignored.
In April, Ms. Kosta, 52, developed a high fever and had Covid-19. She was placed in a medically induced coma from April 12 to May 1 while being treated first at New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital and then New York Presbyterian Hospital / Weill Cornell Medical Center.
After that, Ms. Kosta made efforts to recover and found it difficult to walk or even hold a cell phone, she said.
Ms. Kosta tried to return to work on July 1 and asked her supervisor and a human resources officer if she could work “just a few hours” a day while she recovered and regained her strength, she said in an interview Wednesday evening . “They said no to that,” she said.
Ms. Kosta said that since July she has no longer had access to her work email or the company’s database, which stores information about the clients she serves. She said she couldn’t work without this access. Ms. Kosta said she made about $ 250,000 annually.
J. Christopher Albanese, a lawyer representing Ms. Kosta, said the company did not quit her, but the lockout made her unable to do her job.
Apr. 26, 2020 at 6:29 am ET
Jennifer Connelly, a spokeswoman for Mr. Robbins, said the allegations in the lawsuit were “ridiculous and unfounded”.
She said that Ms. Kosta “remains a current employee” and that the company has “provided all necessary accommodation” and “continues to pay the full cost of her health insurance even though the legal obligation to do so ended in June”.
Ms. Kosta also said that comments from Mr. Robbins on a podcast caused her distress.
On the podcast recorded in May, Mr. Robbins described a worker who had a cough, a 102-degree fever and “became very anxious.”
“And so she went to the hospital and then she felt short of breath from fear and hyperventilated a little, so she was immediately put on a ventilator,” he said.
Mr Robbins said after finding out the clerk had fallen into a coma he called a doctor friend who knew people in the hospital. He said he asked his friend to call the hospital and the friend finally got through to the night doctor who eased the pressure on the ventilator.
“As a result, she opened her eyes four or five days later,” Robbins said, claiming that the episode showed that ventilators, at least with too much pressure, appeared to “do harm”.
In July, Ms Kosta said she was contacted directly by a customer in Poland who said he listened to Mr Robbins’ podcast and understood that Mr Robbins had described Ms. Kosta.
Ms. Kosta listened to the podcast and said Wednesday evening that Mr. Robbins’ claims of interfering with her treatment were completely false. She said she was ashamed because she felt he had described her as a “hysterical woman, weakling”.
The comments were not the first time Mr. Robbins’ remarks about a woman had been scrutinized. In April 2018, Mr. Robbins apologized for women using the #MeToo movement to “gain meaning and safety by attacking and destroying other people”.
Ms. Connelly, the spokesperson for Mr. Robbins, said the organization had raised concerns about Ms. Kosta’s condition. “When we were informed that Ms. Kosta had contracted Covid-19 and was hospitalized, Mr. Robbins and his organization made inquiries with compassion and support for her,” she said.
She added: “Any suggestion by Ms. Kosta that RRI is unprofessional or does not comply with applicable law in her situation or in the normal course of business is obviously wrong.”