By Pamela Wolf, J.D. The EEOC’s nationwide disability discrimination lawsuit against Lowe’s over its inflexible leave policies has been resolved with an $8.6 million settlement. The federal agency contended that the home improvement and appliance store chain violated the ADA and engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against people with disabilities by firing them and failing to provide them reasonable accommodations when their medical leaves exceeded the company’s 180-day (and, subsequently, 240-day) maximum leave policy. The EEOC also asserted that Lowe’s violated the ADA by terminating individuals who were “regarded as” disabled, had a record of disability, and/or were associated with someone with a disability. The EEOC has increasingly intensified its focus on extension of medical leave as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities. On May 9, in response to what it called a “troubling trend” marked by a “prevalence of employer policies that deny or unlawfully restrict the use of leave as a reasonable accommodation,” the EEOC issued a new “resource document” addressing leave as an accommodation under the ADA. The document, Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act, is aimed at helping educate employers and employees about workplace leave under the ADA to prevent discriminatory denials of leave. In addition to the monetary relief, the four-year consent decree settling the suit against Lowe’s requires the employer to retain a consultant with ADA experience to review and revise company policies as appropriate; implement effective ADA training for both supervisors and staff; develop a centralized tracking system for employee requests for accommodation; maintain an accommodation log; post documentation related to this settlement; and submit regular reports to EEOC verifying compliance with the decree. At the same time it announced the settlement, the EEOC notified persons terminated by Lowe’s between January 1, 2004, and May 13, 2010, after having taken the maximum amount of leave then available under Lowe’s leave-of-absence policies, that they can go to the agency’s webpage for the settlement (currently under development), email [email protected], or call 1-855-725-4456 for more information on how to complete a claim form. “This settlement sends a clear message to employers that policies that limit the amount of leave may violate the ADA when they call for the automatic firing of employees with a disability after they reach a rigid, inflexible leave limit,” said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. “We hope that our efforts here will encourage employers to voluntarily comply with the ADA.”
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