Wal-Mart to Pay $75,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Lawsuit

EEOC Wal-mart disability discriminationCHICAGO – Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will pay a former employee $75,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced yesterday.

EEOC’s lawsuit charged Wal-Mart with violating federal discrimination law when the giant retailer failed to accommodate Nancy Stack, a cancer survivor with physical limitations, and subjected her to harassment based on her disability. Stack worked at a Walmart store in Hodgkins, Ill.

As a workplace accommodation, Stack needed a chair and a modified schedule. EEOC alleged that while the store provided Stack with a modified schedule for a period of time, it revoked the accommodation for no stated reason. Further, according to EEOC, the store did not ensure that a chair was in Stack’s work area, telling her that she had to haul a chair from the furniture department to her work area, a task that was difficult, given her disability. Making matters even worse, EEOC alleged that a co-worker harassed Stack by calling her “cripple” and “chemo brain.”

Wal-Mart’s alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, which can include denying reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and subjecting them to a hostile work environment. EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.; Civil Action No. 15-cv-5796.)

Wal-Mart will pay $75,000 in monetary relief to Stack as part of a consent decree settling the suit, signed by U.S. District Judge Sharon Coleman on Dec. 6th. The two-year decree also provides additional, non-monetary relief intended to improve the Hodgkins store’s workplace. Under the decree, the store will train employees on disability discrimination and requests for reasonable accommodations under the ADA. The Walmart store will also monitor requests for accommodation and complaints of disability discrimination and report those to EEOC.

“Wal-Mart refused to provide simple, effective and inexpensive accommodations in the form of a chair and modified schedule and failed to protect Stack from mocking because she had cancer,” said John Hendrickson, regional attorney of EEOC’s Chicago District Office. “Both the failure to provide accommodations and to stop the harassment violated federal law, and we are pleased with today’s settlement. Ms. Stack will receive monetary recompense from Wal-Mart, and the company will be required to educate its workforce on employees’ rights and on its own obligations under the law.”

You can review this press release in its entirety on the EEOC website here.

EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of employment discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

ARTICLE BY U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
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Termination For Conduct Caused By Side Effects of Prescription Medication Was Not Disability Discrimination

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Disability Discrimination

A federal court in Florida has upheld an employee’s termination due to her “inebriated” conduct that was caused by her use of prescription medications, holding that her discharge did not constitute disability discriminationCaporicci v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Case No. 8-14-cv-2131-T-36EAJ (M.D. Fla. May 27, 2016).

Lisa Caporicci worked for Chipotle as a crew member and had a long history of depression and bi-polar disorder. In April 2013 she informed her manager that she took medication for bi-polar disorder but did not mention any side effects or behavioral issues that might arise from taking the medication.

In May 2013, Caporicci began taking new medication because she was experiencing panic attacks. At that time, she requested a few days off and her request was granted.  She did not work for five days and returned on June 4, 2013.  Four days later, she reported for work in what appeared to be an inebriated state.  She was “very slow, messed up orders and was incoherent.”  Caporicci’s supervisor took her off the serving line and sent her home.  She was fired later that day, for violating Chipotle’s Drug and Alcohol Policy, which prohibits employees from reporting for work or being at work under the influence of alcohol, drugs or controlled substances, or with any detectable amount of alcohol, drugs or controlled substances in his or her system.  The policy further provides that if an employee takes prescription medication that may adversely affect the ability to perform the job, he/she must notify his/her manager prior to starting work.

Caporicci asserted disability discrimination claims under federal and state law, as well as FMLA interference and retaliation claims. Her FMLA claims were dismissed because she had been employed less than 12 months.  As to her disability discrimination claims, Caporicci argued that firing her for medication side effects was tantamount to firing her for her disability.

The Court noted that courts are split on the question of whether a termination based on conduct related to, or caused by, a disability constitutes unlawful discrimination. The majority position, which includes courts in the Eleventh Circuit, holds that an employer may discipline or terminate an employee for workplace misconduct even when the misconduct is a result of the disability.  Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court discounted the minority position in Raytheon Company v. Hernandez, 540 U.S. 44, 55 n.6 (2003), stating:  “To the extent that [the Ninth Circuit] suggested that, because respondent’s workplace misconduct is related to his disability, petitioner’s refusal to rehire respondent on account of that workplace misconduct violated the ADA, we point out that we have rejected a similar argument in the context of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.”

For these reasons, the Court followed the majority position and held that Caporicci’s termination was not discrimination based on her disability, but rather, it was the result of her employer’s application of a neutral policy which prohibited employees from reporting to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2016

EEOC Sues McDonald's for Disability Discrimination

mcdonalds logoFast Food Giant Denied Sign Language Interpreter for Deaf Applicant

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — McDonald’s Corporation and McDonald’s Restaurants of Missouri violated federal law by refusing to accommodate and hire a deaf applicant, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the suit, Ricky Washington, who is deaf, applied online for a job at a McDonald’s restaurant in Belton, Mo. in June 2012. Washington indicated on his application that he attended Kansas School for the Deaf. Washington also said he had previous job experience working as a cook and clean-up team member at a McDonald’s restaurant in Louisiana in 2009. When the Belton restaurant manager learned Washington needed a sign language interpreter for his job interview, she canceled the interview and never rescheduled it, despite Washington’s sister volunteering to act as the interpreter. Restaurant management continued to interview and hire new workers after Washington made several attempts to schedule an interview.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for job applicants so they will have equal opportunities during the application process. EEOC filed its lawsuit (EEOC v. McDonald’s Corporation, et al, 4:15-cv-01004-FJG) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief, including training for all McDonald’s managers on accommodations for applicants with disabilities, particularly those who are deaf.

EEOC St. Louis District Director James R. Neely, Jr. said, “Removing obstacles in the hiring process for people with disabilities is a national priority for EEOC. All employers, but especially large ones, should join with the agency to make sure everyone has equal access to the employment process.”

“People with disabilities have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country,” added EEOC Regional Attorney Andrea G. Baran. “Providing equal employment opportunities to all job applicants – including those with disabilities – is not just the law, it is good for our economy and our workplaces.”

According to company information, McDonald’s is a global fast food provider that serves over sixty-nine million customers per day in 100 different countries.  The Belton, Mo. restaurant is owned and operated by the corporation’s world-wide headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.

Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring is one of six national priorities identified by EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

The St. Louis District Office oversees Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and a portion of southern Illinois.

EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.

The original content can be viewed here.

© Copyright U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

EEOC Sues McDonald’s for Disability Discrimination

mcdonalds logoFast Food Giant Denied Sign Language Interpreter for Deaf Applicant

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — McDonald’s Corporation and McDonald’s Restaurants of Missouri violated federal law by refusing to accommodate and hire a deaf applicant, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the suit, Ricky Washington, who is deaf, applied online for a job at a McDonald’s restaurant in Belton, Mo. in June 2012. Washington indicated on his application that he attended Kansas School for the Deaf. Washington also said he had previous job experience working as a cook and clean-up team member at a McDonald’s restaurant in Louisiana in 2009. When the Belton restaurant manager learned Washington needed a sign language interpreter for his job interview, she canceled the interview and never rescheduled it, despite Washington’s sister volunteering to act as the interpreter. Restaurant management continued to interview and hire new workers after Washington made several attempts to schedule an interview.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for job applicants so they will have equal opportunities during the application process. EEOC filed its lawsuit (EEOC v. McDonald’s Corporation, et al, 4:15-cv-01004-FJG) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief, including training for all McDonald’s managers on accommodations for applicants with disabilities, particularly those who are deaf.

EEOC St. Louis District Director James R. Neely, Jr. said, “Removing obstacles in the hiring process for people with disabilities is a national priority for EEOC. All employers, but especially large ones, should join with the agency to make sure everyone has equal access to the employment process.”

“People with disabilities have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country,” added EEOC Regional Attorney Andrea G. Baran. “Providing equal employment opportunities to all job applicants – including those with disabilities – is not just the law, it is good for our economy and our workplaces.”

According to company information, McDonald’s is a global fast food provider that serves over sixty-nine million customers per day in 100 different countries.  The Belton, Mo. restaurant is owned and operated by the corporation’s world-wide headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.

Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring is one of six national priorities identified by EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

The St. Louis District Office oversees Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and a portion of southern Illinois.

EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.

The original content can be viewed here.

© Copyright U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Death Threats against Co-Workers Defeat Employee Disability Discrimination Claim, Federal Court Rules

A depressed employee who was fired for threatening to kill his co-workers was not a qualified individual entitled to protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as the employee could not perform essential job functions, with or without an accommodation, a federal appeals court in San Francisco has ruled, affirming judgment in favor of the employer. Mayo v. PCC Structurals, Inc.No. 13-35643 (9th Cir. July 28, 2015). The Ninth Circuit has jurisdiction over Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

Background

Timothy Mayo was a welder for PCC Structurals, a manufacturer of specialized aircraft parts. Mayo was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 1999, but medication and treatment enabled him to continue working without incident until 2010, when he began to feel he was being bullied by his supervisor. Mayo told three different co-workers that he wanted to kill the supervisor. He told one co-worker that he felt like bringing a shotgun to work and “blowing off” the heads of the supervisor and another manager. He told another co-worker that he wanted to “bring a gun down and start shooting people.” Mayo said he wanted to start shooting at 1:30 p.m., because by that time all of his supervisors would be at the worksite, thereby presenting him with a maximally target-rich environment.

Mayo’s co-workers reported the threats to the employer. When questioned, Mayo told an HR representative that he “couldn’t guarantee” he would not carry out the threats. PCC immediately suspended Mayo and called the police. The police took Mayo into custody for six days on the basis that he was an imminent threat to himself and others. After his release from police custody, Mayo spent two months on Family and Medical Leave Act and Oregon Family Leave Act leave. Mayo’s psychologist and a nurse practitioner cleared him to return to work and suggested that Mayo be assigned a different supervisor. Instead, PCC terminated Mayo’s employment.

Mayo brought an Americans with Disabilities Act case against PCC, arguing that his threats were the result of his diagnosed major depressive disorder and that PCC Structurals failed to accommodate him (by following the suggestion of his doctor that he be assigned a different supervisor).

The District Court granted summary judgment to the employer, holding that Mayo could not establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination. Mayo was unable to show he could perform the essential functions of his job with or without a reasonable accommodation and, therefore, he was not a “qualified individual” under the ADA.

Expressed Homicidal Ideation in Workplace Bars ADA Discrimination Claim

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court decision. Its holding was straightforward: Mayo was not a “qualified individual” under the ADA because he could not perform the essential functions of his job:

An essential function of almost every job [including Mayo’s] is the ability to appropriately handle stress and interact with others.

The logic of our holding is that compliance with such fundamental standards is an “essential function” of almost every job.

Writing for the panel, Judge John B. Owens stated that threatening the lives of one’s co-workers “in chilling detail” on multiple occasions indicates that an employee cannot appropriately handle stress and interact with others. The Court also held that, even when the threatening comments can be traced back to a disability, such as major depressive disorder, the employee’s inability to handle stress and interact with others renders him unable to perform essential job functions and negates a claim under the ADA.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision brings it in line with several sister Circuits that have held employers cannot be forced to choose between accommodating a disability and creating an unsafe workplace for other employees. The Court said:

The [ADA] does not require an employer to retain a potentially violent employee. Such a request would place an employer on a razor’s edge — in jeopardy of violating the [ADA] if it fires such an employee, yet in jeopardy of being deemed negligent if it returned him and he hurts someone. The [ADA] protects only “qualified” employees, that is employees qualified to do the job for which they were hired; and threatening other employees disqualifies one.

While acknowledging prior cases holding that conduct resulting from a disability “is considered to be part of the disability,” the Ninth Circuit ruled that when it comes to overt threats to kill co-workers, employers have no obligation to “simply cross their fingers and hope that violent threats ring hollow …. [W]hile the ADA and Oregon disability law protect important individual rights, they do not require employers to play dice with the lives of their workforce.”

Addressing Mayo’s claim that PCC Structurals should have reasonably accommodated him by following his psychologist’s suggestion that he be assigned a different supervisor, the Ninth Circuit stated:

Giving Mayo a different supervisor would not have changed his inappropriate response to stress – it would have just removed one potential stressor and possibly added another name to the hit list.

Implications

The Court was faced with a person clearly disabled by major depression who manifested that disability through very specific threats of violence. While being sensitive to the realities of mental illness, the Court ultimately was forced to decide whether safety of the workplace must take primacy over the otherwise extant protections of the ADA for disabled employees. The Ninth Circuit came down on the side of workplace safety. Its ruling can be summarized as “Safety first. ADA second.”

The decision applies only to misconduct that takes the form of violence (or the expression of homicidal or violent ideation in the workplace). The Court did not hold that all forms of employee misconduct fall outside the ADA. Indeed, it emphasized that its holding was limited to “the extreme facts . . . of an employee who makes serious and credible threats of violence.” It stated that employees who are rude, gruff, unpleasant, or anti-social may have a “psychiatric disability” and, thus, be a “qualified individual” under the ADA. Where non-violent misconduct stems from a disability, it will continue to be deemed a part of the disability, requiring employers to attempt accommodation to mitigate future disability-driven misconduct.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2015

Wal-Mart to Pay $150,000 to Settle EEOC Age and Disability Discrimination Suit

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Seal

Keller Store Manager Was Harassed and Fired Because of His Age and Denied Accommodation for His Diabetes, Federal Agency Charged

Wal-Mart Stores of Texas, L.L.C. (Wal-Mart) has agreed to pay $150,000 and provide other significant relief to settle an age and disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC charged in its suit that Wal-Mart discriminated against the manager of the Keller, Texas Walmart store by subjecting him to harassment, discriminatory treatment, and discharge because of his age. The EEOC also charged that Wal-Mart refused to provide a reasonable accommodation for the man’s disability as federal law requires.

According to the EEOC’s suit, David Moorman was ridiculed with frequent taunts from his direct supervisor, including “old man” and “old food guy.” The EEOC further alleged that Wal-Mart ultimately fired Moorman because of his age. Such alleged conduct violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of age 40 or older, including age-based harassment.

The EEOC’s suit also alleged that Wal-Mart unlawfully refused Moorman’s request for a reasonable accommodation for his diabetes. Following his diagnosis and on the advice of his doctor, Moorman requested reassignment to a store co-manager or assistant manager position. According to the suit, Wal-Mart refused to engage in the interactive process of discussing Moorman’s requested accommodation, eventually rejecting his request. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Wal-Mart had an obligation to reasonably accommodate Moorman’s disability.

The EEOC filed suit on March 12, 2014, (Case No. 3:14-cv-00908 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

“Mr. Moorman was subjected to taunts and bullying from his supervisor that made his working conditions intolerable,” said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Joel Clark. “The EEOC remains committed to prosecuting the rights of workers through litigation in federal court.”

Under the terms of the two-year consent decree settling the case, Wal-Mart will pay $150,000 in relief to Moorman. In addition, Wal-Mart agreed to provide training for employees on the ADA and the ADEA. The training will include an instruction on the kind of conduct that may constitute unlawful discrimination or harassment, as well as an instruction on Wal-Mart’s procedures for handling requests for reasonable accommodations under the ADA. Wal-Mart will also report to the EEOC regarding its compliance with the consent decree and post a notice to employees about the settlement.

“The EEOC is pleased that Wal-Mart recognized the value of resolving this case without any further court action,” said EEOC Dallas District Director Janet Elizondo.

OF

EEOC Sues Sushi at the Lake for Disability Discrimination

EEOCSeal

Cornelius Restaurant Unlawfully Refused to Hire Applicant Because of Amputated Arm, Federal Agency Charges

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Greenhouse Enterprise, Inc., dba Sushi at the Lake, which operates a restaurant in Cornelius, N.C., violated federal law when it refused to hire a job applicant because of his disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, Matthew Botello’s left arm was amputated above his elbow around November 2010. On or about Oct. 4, 2013, Botello applied to work as a busboy (or “busser”) at Sushi at the Lake, and on Oct. 10, Botello was told to report to the restaurant to work the following day. Shortly after Botello arrived on Oct. 11, the restaurant’s owner saw that Botello’s left arm had been amputated. The EEOC said that the owner gestured at Botello’s left side and told Botello that he could not bus tables because he had only one arm. Although Botello told the owner that he had bussed tables at another restaurant, the owner told Botello he could not work and to leave Sushi at the Lake.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects applicants and employees from discrimination based on their disabilities. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina Charlotte Division (EEOC v. Greenhouse Enterprise, Inc. d/b/a Sushi at the Lake, Civil Action No.3:14-cv-00569 after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.

“Employers need to understand the importance of treating people equally despite whatever physical challenges they may face,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office. “In this case, we allege that Mr. Botello was not hired because of assumptions made about his abilities based on his arm amputation. Employers must be careful not to violate federal law by making assumptions about people with disabilities.”

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