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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