Jury Verdict, Settlements Bring $301K in Relief for Alleged Disability, Pregnancy, Religious Discrimination
November 09, 2022
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has separately announced the recovery of $301,147 in monetary relief for alleged disability, pregnancy, and religious discrimination by employers in Tennessee, Illinois, and Arkansas. The EEOC also filed a new lawsuit against an employer in Colorado alleging religious discrimination.
Regarded as having a disability.A Tennessee jury has returned a verdict for the EEOC on its lawsuit against West Meade Place alleging that the privately owned Nashville rehabilitation and health care facility violated the ADA when it fired a laundry technician, despite her ability to do the job, because the company regarded her as having a physical or mental impairment. The court awarded the former employee $6,000 in compensatory damages, and will award back pay of $6,147, the amount stipulated by the parties.
The employee suffered from anxiety throughout her adult life. Before she worked at West Meade, for years, she saw a doctor regularly and took medication for her anxiety. She began employment with West Meade in February 2015 and worked there until November 2015. She successfully performed her job and West Meade never disciplined her, the EEOC said. When she requested intermittent leave to address her anxiety, the company discharged her after concluding she did not qualify for FMLA, claiming she was unable to perform her job duties. Later, West Meade offered another reason, alleging she had submitted a fake doctor’s note. However, the company never produced the note.
Dismissal reversed on appeal.Earlier, on February 8, 2021, the Sixth Circuit reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the case, the EEOC noted. In October 2019, the trial court had dismissed the case, deciding that a reasonable jury could not find that West Meade Place had fired the former employee because it regarded her as having a disability.
Victory at trial.After a three-and-a-half-day trial, on October 25, 2022, the jury found for the EEOC. “This represented a very important case for the EEOC in ensuring protection in the workplace for employees whose employers regard them as having impairments,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Faye A. Williams. “We are pleased the jury understood that West Meade discharged the employee because it believed she had an impairment in violation of the ADA.”
Offer effectively withdrawn over pregnancy.Automaker Ford Motor Company agreed to pay$115,000 and furnish other relief to settle allegations that it violated Title VII when it refused to hire a pregnant applicant to work at its stamping plant in Chicago Heights, Illinois, due to her pregnancy. Ford extended the applicant a conditional offer, subject to passing a physical, drug test, and background check. She passed each of these tests successfully, disclosing at her physical that she was pregnant, according to the EEOC. Ford’s doctor cleared her to begin work on August 13, 2019, but Ford did not schedule her for her first day of work. She repeatedly called Ford to find out when she would begin working and was given various answers, until she was told in late October 2019 Ford was no longer hiring, the EEOC said.
In addition to the monetary relief, the two-year consent decree resolving the suit prohibits Ford from requiring additional medical documentation or releases from pregnant employees than it does from other employees. It also requires Ford to: adopt procedures for notifying pregnant applicants or employees if it needs more medical information; provide antidiscrimination and harassment training; adopt and maintain EEO policies that include a robust complaint and investigation procedure; and report complaints of pregnancy discrimination to the EEOC.
Fired for refusing to wear symbol.The Kroger Limited Partnership I will pay$180,000 to settle allegations that the company violated Title VII when it disciplined and ultimately fired two employees at a store in Conway, Arkansas, for refusing to wear an apron with the company’s “Our Promise” symbol because they believed it represented support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Discriminatory beard policy.Emergency transport companies Global Medical Response, Inc., American Medical Response, Inc., and AMR’s subsidiaries located in Greenwood Village, Colorado, violated the ADA and Title VII by discriminating and retaliating against a nationwide class of applicants and employee first responders with sincerely held religious beliefs and disabilities that required them to wear beards in conflict with the companies’ policy against facial hair, the EEOC contends in anew lawsuit.
Since at least December 2018, applicants and employees in the EMT and paramedic positions requested accommodations from GMR and AMR to be allowed to wear facial hair due to medical conditions or because of their religious beliefs. The companies have a “no facial hair” policy for their EMTs and paramedics related to their wearing of respirators while working. GMR and AMR contend that respirators will not fit properly if the employee has facial hair. However, the companies denied the applicants and employees the use of a respirator that would have allowed them to maintain their facial hair and perform their jobs safely, according to the EEOC. Because of the unlawful denial of accommodations to these first responders, some were forced to shave in violation of their religious beliefs or their doctor’s orders, to keep their jobs, while those who would not shave or complained their rights were being violated due the companies’ policy were fired, the federal agency contends.