It seems nothing prevents insensitive or inconsiderate behavior. It’s worse when this inappropriate behavior is directed at individuals with disabilities and handicaps. When that behavior occurs in the workplace, it is often illegal with punitive consequences for offending employers.
The 1990 American Disabilities Act was put in place, in part, to prevent egregious workplace offenses such as not promoting employees with disabilities, not accommodating training materials or policies to the disable employee, and prohibits classifying employees in adverse ways. Nathan McCoy, an Orlando, FL area employment attorney says, perhaps the most common mistake employers make is in not making reasonable accommodations to the physical or mental limitations of disabled employees. A recent example involving Wal-mart, where the nations largest retailer was struck with a $50,000 settlement, points out how costly a refusal to make simple scheduling accommodations can be.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently brought suit against a Wal-Mart store for its firing of a long time employee suffering from cerebral palsy. A part-time clerk for 22 years, Marcia Areny took a medical leave to undergo treatment related to her cerebral palsy. When attempting to return to work, the store decided to terminate her rather than allowing her to return to shift work. Areny provided a store manager with a request for periodic breaks off her feet as a medical necessity explained in a written statement from her doctor. The store manager refused and demanded a medical release with no restrictions – effectively terminating her.
For Wal-Mart’s part, they explained that this was the result of the unfortunate actions of a now former store manager and that this isolated incident in no way represents the firms commitment to Americans with Disabilities. In fact, Wal-Mart has agreed to conduct annual live training of ADA standards for management officials, a discrimination practice McCoy’s firm Wilson McCoy, P.A. puts in place for similar employers around Orlando, Florida.
Cases of disability discrimination are not limited to existing medical conditions. Some employees who encounter medial problems and take a temporary medical leave of absence, often have a hard time returning to work. Not because of their medical conditions, but because of a perceived limitations by discriminating employers.
“I wanted to work, but they wouldn’t let me” claims Merrillville, Ind., resident Rosemary Bednarek. After injuring her back at a Jewel-Osco store, her doctor advised her not lift objects exceeding 20 pound in weight. The company would not accommodate her request and she ultimately re-injured her back at work again. Bednarek was eventually fired by Jewel-Osco.
As a result of this and nearly a thousand complaints by former Jewel-Osco employees, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought suit against them claiming Jewel-Osco had fired employees with disabilities at the end of medical leaves rather than bringing them back to work with reasonable accommodations. Jewel-Osco parent company Supervalu admits to no wrong doing and said in a statement that “we have fully complied with the law, we ultimately chose to settle this case in order to avoid future litigation costs, put the matter behind us and focus on our current business initiatives”. Although not all 1000 employees took part in the suit, over 100 of those who did will receive an average award of $29,000 each.
Illegal cases of discrimination don’t always involve firings and dismals. Equally offensive and illegal cases of discrimination often involve simple refusals to hire someone because of a perceived disabilities. A case in point is the rescinded job offer to Donal Teaford by Hussey Cooper.
Hussey, who offered Donald a job as a production laborer conditioned the offer on Teaford passing a physical exam. During said exam, Hussey company doctor learned of Teaford’s participation in a clinically supervised chemical dependency treatment program and revoked their job offer.
Based on a brief of the case, Attorney Nathan McCoy feels that this may have violated ADA as Teaford was qualified for the position, not experiencing side-effects from treatment and a treatment program doctor verified Teaford’s compliance. EEOC District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. added “This case should remind all employers that the ADA requires employers to make individualized assessments about an individual’s ability to do the job instead of acting out of speculative fears or biases.” An agreement to settle the case by consent decree has been reached. In addition to the $85,000 in monetary relief to Teaford, Hussey Copper will hire Teaford as a mason utility laborer, post notice of this settlement and agree to provide company wide anti-discrimination training.
Make no mistake: despite medial restrictions, you may have a right to work. Failure by your employer to provide you with reasonable accommodations could be illegal. It is important to note that most discrimination claims are governed by a statute of limitations. If your claims are not first preserved through the filing of an administrative charge of discrimination, you may lose your right to sue your employer. For guidance about this process or to determine whether your employer has violated your rights, you are encouraged to contact Wilson McCoy, P.A. for employment law, labor practice standards and workplace discrimination lawsuits.