Power Grid Operator Denied Employee Reasonable Accommodation for Postpartum Depression, Federal Agency Charged
INDIANAPOLIS - Midcontinent Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO), a Carmel, Ind.-based power grid operator for much of the Midwest, will pay $90,500 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, a MISO employee suffered from postpartum depression, a condition the employee made known to the company. Yet when she requested leave time to help her resolve the condition - leave which was available under the company's policies - the company denied her request and fired her for lack of attendance, the EEOC said. After being fired, the employee filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC.
While insisting that having an employee in her position was critical, MISO nevertheless waited more than a month after her anticipated return-to-work date to fill the position, and then allowed the new employee to delay her own start date by another three months.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation of an employee's disability, unless the employer would suffer an undue hardship as a result. An employer's duty to provide an accommodation is a continuing one, and proving a prior accommodation does not absolve the employer of liability for failing to provide an accommodation in response to a subsequent request.
Although postpartum depression is not a permanent condition, it had substantially limited more than one of the employee's major life activities for several months when MISO fired her, the touchstones of disability under the ADA. The effects of an impairment expected to last less than six months can still be substantially limiting under the ADA.
The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 1:11-cv-01703) filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to monetary relief ordered by the court under the three-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit, MISO is obligated to provide training to its employees on its obligations under the ADA and post an employee notice about the lawsuit informing employees of MISO's duty under the law to maintain a workplace free from unlawful discrimination. The company must also provide annual reports to the EEOC including details of how all other requests for accommodation are handled by MISO, and allow the EEOC to monitor compliance with the decree. The EEOC also obtained an injunction against MISO prohibiting unlawful disability discrimination and retaliation.
"The EEOC takes seriously its charge to eliminate employment discrimination against people with disabilities and remains committed to enforcing the ADA," said Laurie A. Young, EEOC regional attorney for the Indianapolis District Office. "The ADA provides protections to employees suffering the debilitating effects of postpartum depression, and we applaud this person for standing up for her rights."
One of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the agency to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA and pregnancy-related limitations, among other possible issues.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.