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When Providing 12 Weeks of Leave Is Not Enough: Trucking Company Pays $300,000 To Settle EEOC Suit

Published by on November 8, 2015

According to a September 2015 press release issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), CTI, Inc., a regional trucking company based in Tucson, Arizona, will pay $300,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The EEOC’s lawsuit alleges that […]

According to a September 2015 press release issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), CTI, Inc., a regional trucking company based in Tucson, Arizona, will pay $300,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

The EEOC’s lawsuit alleges that CTI denied reasonable accommodations to a class of individuals with disabilities by denying requests for unpaid leave beyond 12 weeks required by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and transfers into open positions for which the disabled employees were qualified. In an example cited by the EEOC, CTI discriminated against and failed to reasonably accommodate a payroll and billing clerk who suffered from an eye disease that required multiple surgeries to correct her eyesight.

The employee took leave under the FMLA. Prior to the expiration of the employee’s FMLA leave, CTI informed the employee that her employment and benefits might be terminated if her doctor did not release her to “full, unrestricted duty” by the time her FMLA leave expired. The EEOC lawsuit alleges that CTI denied the employee’s request for additional leave time, refused to discuss possible accommodations, and terminated the employee on the day her FMLA leave expired.

In addition to the settlement requiring CTI to pay $300,000 to disabled employees, CTI also must take the following actions, among others:

  • Eliminate its policy of requiring employees to return to work with no medical restrictions;
  • Eliminate its policy of not considering leaves of absence, extended time off, light duty or reassignment as reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities;
  • Hire a neutral, outside consultant to ensure compliance with the ADA;
  • Give aggrieved individuals an apology and positive letter of reference; and
  • Make job offers to the aggrieved individuals if there are job openings.

In the EEOC’s press release, EEOC Phoenix Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill stated “[e]mployers should know they violate the law when they have blanket policies requiring disabled employees not to return to work until they are 100% healed.” O’Neill further stated “[e]mployers also violate the ADA when they have inflexible, rigid policies limiting unpaid leave to 12 weeks.”

EEOC District Director Rayford O. Irvin added, “[e]mployers must grant employees with disabilities reasonable accommodations including leaves of absence, time off, light duty and reassignment – absent undue hardship. And they also must conduct fact-specific individualized evaluations when deciding a proposed accommodation is indeed an undue hardship rather than simply relying on assumptions or beliefs.”

Laconic Lookout:

It is a common misconception that employees can be terminated immediately upon the exhaustion of their FMLA leave if they are not 100% cleared to return to work. This case demonstrates that failing to train employees about this misconception can be costly.

The ADA requires that an employer conduct individualized assessments and engage in a dialogue with the disabled employee to explore reasonable accommodations (including extended leave time) that may allow the employee to return to work. All employers should examine their policies, procedures and processes to ensure that they are not placing themselves at undue risk for a claim due to this common misreading of what the law requires.

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