One more time: you must seek a reasonable accommodation for employees who have disabilities or who are pregnant

A couple of useful takeaways from this latest settlement of a “low hanging fruit” EEOC lawsuit.

The EEOC announced that a large health network which owned and operated three Arizona hospitals agreed to pay $545,000 to settle … yes, you guessed it! – a lawsuit which alleged discrimination against employees with disabilities and pregnant women with pregnancy-related medical conditions.

This health care company hit the jackpot – it was charged with discriminating against BOTH disabled and pregnant employees.

Nice job!

The EEOC had charged that the company:

– refused to provide reasonable accommodations such as extended leave, reassignment, or assistive devices to employees with disabilities;

– had an inflexible 90-day leave policy and that they terminated employees with disabilities at the end of the 90 days without considering reasonable accommodations that would allow the employees to return to work;  and

– discriminated against pregnant employees by refusing them accommodations provided to non-pregnant employees and by discharging pregnant employees who could not return to work within 90 days because of pregnancy-related medical conditions.

Let’s briefly break down these claims.

First, we know that under the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) an employer must make reasonable accommodations for employees who have disabilities or who are pregnant, and must engage the employee in an interactive dialogue to determine if there is such a non-burdensome accommodation.

Second, an employer cannot have a one-size-fits-all inflexible leave policy; an employer must “make an individualized assessment of each request for accommodation” (as the EEOC just put it).

Indeed, as if to underscore this point, the EEOC just settled a lawsuit for $50,000 which alleged disability discrimination because of an inflexible leave policy.

According to the EEOC, the employee in Alabama “requested and was granted leave to cover absences due to heart surgery. When he attempted to return to work, however, the company claimed he had not been granted leave and fired him for violating the company’s attendance policy.”

Quite inflexible, no?


The EEOC district director said, apropos our post today:

“Nearly 30 years after the enactment of the ADA, some employers are still enforcing inflexible attendance policies that ignore the requirements of the law and drive qualified workers with disabilities out of the workforce. This lawsuit is a reminder to employers they have an obligation to make exceptions to attendance policies and provide leave as a form of reasonable accommodation unless doing so would result in undue hardship.”

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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]