A recently settled lawsuit brought by the EEOC against an Arizona trucking company highlights the importance for companies to always consider unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation and to ensure their managers and supervisors are trained on all federal, state and local discrimination laws.
In September 2013, the EEOC sued Chemical Transportation, Inc., alleging that its policies violated the ADA by prohibiting employees from working with any medical restriction and by terminating employees if they are unable to return to “full, unrestricted duty” after twelve weeks of leave. The EEOC also alleged that the company unlawfully denied disabled employees’ requests for transfer to open positions for which they were qualified.
On September 22, 2015, after almost two (2) full years of litigation – and likely significant attorneys’ fees and costs – CTI agreed to pay $300,000 and take other affirmative actions to resolve this matter, according to the EEOC’s press release. In addition to the monetary settlement, CTI agreed to hire a neutral consultant to ensure compliance with the ADA, eliminate its policies prohibiting employees from working with medical restrictions or requiring termination after twelve (12) weeks of leave, and institute a system of evaluating managers and supervisors based upon their compliance with EEO laws.
This lawsuit and settlement send a stark message that companies must be vigilant in ensuring their practices and policies do not offend or contradict their duty to engage in the interactive process and provide reasonable accommodations to employees. In particular, this matter demonstrates that compliance with the FMLA is simply not enough and that all supervisors and managers must be fully aware of and trained on their duties under all federal, state, and local discrimination laws with respect to accommodating disabled employees.