The Interstate Distributor Company has settled a discrimination lawsuit brought against them by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for $4.85 million. According to the EEOC, the Tacoma, WA trucking company discriminated against their employees by instituting a “maximum leave” and “no restrictions” policies. Specifically, Interstate Distributor automatically terminated any employee who did not return to work after taking their 12 weeks of leave allowed under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Further, any employee who wanted to return to work but required some accommodation for his or her disability was also automatically terminated. These policies were enforced without leeway or to determine if any accommodation could be made for an employee.
The American Disability Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability. Employers are required to provide a reasonable accommodation, such as paid or unpaid leave, some modifications to the employee’s job functions, or reassignment, to an employee with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer. Interstate Distributor provided no evidence that accommodating employees with disabilities was significantly difficult or an onerous expense for them.
The EEOC has long held the position that employers must make an individualized determination, for each employee that has exhausted a leave of absence, as to whether that employee can return to work with or without reasonable accommodation for a disability. The agency has made aggressive pursuit of companies who violate the ADA or FMLA, such as Interstate Distributor, a high priority.
In addition to the high monetary award, Interstate Distributor was hit with a three year injunction which prohibits the company from engaging in any further discrimination or retaliation based on disability. Interstate Distributor was also ordered to revise its leave policies to include reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities and provide mandatory periodic ADA training to all employees. The company must also inform the EEOC of any complaints by employees related to disability discrimination, and appoint an internal consent decree monitor to ensure its compliance with the decree.
The lawsuit was filed by the EEOC in Colorado and applies to all of the company’s facilities and employees throughout the country.
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