Recent EEOC Disability Discrimination

The EEOC reported on four disability discrimination cases in March. Collectively, they show that some employers either do not understand their obligations or take calculated business risks when deciding to break the law.

Managers should not nickname bipolar workers “Psycho.”

In Maryland, a Jeep Dealership was not exactly compassionate when its office worked disclosed she had bipolar disorder. Instead, management started referring to her as “psycho” and “pill popper.” While the employee was out on medical leave, the employer fired her.

The employer stood firm, refusing to settle before a lawsuit. Then, the EEOC sued, alleging illegal harassment and discrimination because of disability or a “record of disability.” Psychiatric conditions may constitute a disability, too. The employer settled the lawsuit by agreeing to pay monetary damages and distributing a written policy to all employees on disability harassment and discrimination.

You want medical leave? We want you gone.

In Wisconsin, an employee was on approved medical leave when she requested an extension of leave to treat the osteoarthritis that was killing her knee. After the request, and while the employee was still on approved leave, the employer fired her without discussing how they might work through the issues. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an “interactive process” to discuss “accommodation alternatives.”

The EEOC sued the employer, alleging that the employer’s action violated the ADA. The lesson for employers is to, AT LEAST, talk to the employee and see if a reasonable accommodation is possible.

Request for leave denied, and your fired.

In North Carolina, a licensed practical nurse working for a nursing facility was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder. She had an episode that caused her to be admitted for psychiatric evaluation and treatment. Her husband called in, reported the problem, and said that the employee needed a medical leave of absence. Two days later, the employer refused the leave request and fired her. The EEOC tried pre-lawsuit negotiations, but the EEOC could not broker a deal. So, the EEOC sued, seeking back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and other relief.

Retaliation for reporting harassment.

The fourth ADA case reported so far in March came from Buffalo, New York. A sales associate with Family Video Move Club, Inc, a huge outfit located in 19 states, had major depression and social anxiety disorder. He was subjected to harassment on the job because of his disability. When he complained about it, the employer had a duty to investigate and take immediate and appropriate corrective action. Instead, it fired the employee after he complained.

The EEOC sued, and the case settled via a consent decree, which is a court order to which the parties agree. Under the decree, Family Video must pay $70,000 in damages to the employee, and the employer must prepare anti-discrimination policies and procedures, provide training, and monitor its own workplace for three years. This could be a big deal because if another discrimination case happens, then the employer could be in violation of a court decree, not just the laws against discrimination.

Jeff Merrick, Merrick Mediation

Copyright 2012

Jeff Merrick