WASHINGTON — Taking another step in its commitment to end disability discrimination in employment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced the filing of three new disability discrimination cases today, charging employers in Georgia, Maryland and Michigan with violations of the recently amended Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
The cases — all filed under the broader and simplified definition of disability set forth in the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) — allege discrimination against qualified individuals with diabetes, cancer and severe arthritis.
“The contributions of people with disabilities to the workplace ought to be valued, not rejected based on myths, fears and stereotypes,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien. “The ADAAA made clear what the EEOC had always asserted: people with a range of disabilities are protected from unlawful discrimination. We hope that these cases send a clear message that the Commission will vigorously enforce the ADA.”
In Atlanta, the agency charged Eckerd Corporation, a nationwide drug store chain doing business as Rite Aid (EEOC v. Eckerd Corporation d/b/a Rite Aid), Civil Action No. 1:10-cv-2816-JEC, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia) with refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation -- a stool to sit on -- to a long-time employee who experienced severe arthritic symptoms in her knees. Fern Strickland, who had worked as a cashier for Rite Aid with this reasonable accommodation for seven years without incident, lost the use of her stool in January 2009 when a new district manager decided that the company would no longer accommodate her disability. According to the EEOC’s pre-suit investigation, the district manager “did not like the idea” that Strickland used a stool. The suit claims that she was terminated several weeks later because of the manager’s failure to accommodate her disability.
In a case filed in Baltimore, the agency alleges that surveying company Fisher, Collins & Carter fired two employees because they had diabetes and hypertension. According to the suit (EEOC v. Fisher, Collins & Carter, Case No. 10-cv-2453, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland), the company asked Robert Gray and Wayne Seifert and other employees to complete a questionnaire regarding their health conditions and medications. Gray had worked for the company for 15 years starting as a rodman, and had been promoted to the position of party chief by the time of his termination. Seifert had been employed since 2000 as a rodman. The suit asserts that, despite their many years of successful performance, the company unlawfully selected Gray and Seifert for a reduction-in-force on January 21, 2009, on the basis of their disabilities, while retaining less qualified, non-disabled employees.
In the third case announced today, filed in Lansing, Mich., the agency charged that IPC Print Services fired one of its employees rather than allowing him to work part time while being treated for cancer. According to the agency's pre-suit investigation, Derek Nelson, who had been employed by IPC as a machinist for over ten years, went on medical leave in 2008 in order to undergo chemotherapy. The EEOC's suit (EEOC v. IPC Print Services, Inc., Case No. 10-cv-886 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan ), alleges that in January 2009, when Nelson sought to continue working part-time while he completed his treatment, IPC discharged Nelson for exceeding the maximum hours of leave allowed under company policy. That decision, the agency contends, violated IPC's obligation to reasonably accommodate Nelson's disability.
In each case, the EEOC conducted an administrative investigation and attempted to reach a voluntary settlement prior to filing suit.
Originally enacted in 1990, the ADA prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of disability. During the ensuing years, federal courts took a narrow view of what conditions counted as “disabilities” under the law. Some courts had found that individuals with serious conditions — such as diabetes and cancer — were not covered by the ADA’s protections against discrimination. In 2008, Congress responded to these interpretations by adopting the ADA Amendments Act, which made clear that the definition of “disability” is both broad and straightforward.
“These cases, among the first filed by the EEOC under the ADA Amendments Act, illustrate the continuing need for rigorous enforcement of the law in this area, as well as further education about the ADA’s requirements,” said General Counsel David Lopez. “Congress has made the scope of the ADA clear and broad: Individuals with disabilities — including serious medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and severe arthritis — must be evaluated according to their qualifications, and not their disabilities. Where a reasonable accommodation will enable a person with a disability to perform the essential functions of her job, an employer must provide it. Through cases like those announced today, the EEOC’s litigation program will focus on deterring willful violations of this important civil rights law.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.