In June, Denny's Restaurant settled an Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") disability bias class action lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), involving 34 claimants, for $1.3 million. According to the EEOC's complaint, Denny's discriminated against a class of aggrieved employees due to their disabilities by discharging them after refusing to provide additional time off beyond the company's maximum medical leave policy. Denny's policy limited all employees' medical leaves to a maximum of 26 weeks, or in some cases, 12 weeks, and it did not allow for additional medical leave as a reasonable accommodation for disabled employees.
This case serves as a reminder to employers that they should not mechanically implement policies that limit the amount of medical leave an employee may take. Under the ADA, an employee may be entitled to additional unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation of a disability. This leave can last beyond 12, or even 26, weeks, although an employer need not provide an indefinite leave of absence as an accommodation. Further, the mere existence of a maximum medical leave policy does not entitle employers to refuse to engage in the interactive process to ascertain what may be a reasonable accommodation in the form of additional leave exceeding prescribed policy maximums.