An Illinois federal district court has ruled that AutoZone may have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in establishing a no-fault points-based attendance policy, despite its exceptions for absences related to disability. More specifically, in denying most of the employer’s summary judgment motion, the judge found that the AutoZone policy might have violated the employees’ right to reasonable accommodations under the ADA regarding time off work. The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Employment Commission v. AutoZone Inc., N.D. Ill., No. 14-cv-3385 (Sept. 30, 2022).
The EEOC filed a lawsuit against Autozoners LLC, which operates AutoZone stores nationwide, on behalf of eight individuals who worked for the company between 2009 and 2011. In the suit, the EEOC alleged that the employees requested disability-related absences to be excused or covered by vacation time under the AutoZone no-fault policy. Autozoners and its holding company, AutoZone, Inc., allegedly violated the ADA by failing to allow the employees to utilize these exceptions to the attendance policy.
AutoZone’s attendance policy consisted of a 12-point system with progressive discipline in the form of a verbal warning, a first written warning, a second written warning, a serious violation, and termination. Any employee who accumulated 12 points, regardless of fault, could be terminated. Employees were also subject to termination if they failed to call in or report to work for two consecutive days, based on job abandonment.
AutoZone posted attendance reports daily to inform employees of their accumulated point totals. Employees would not receive occurrence points for absences or tardiness covered by the company’s short-term disability leave, approved leave under the FMLA, emergency volunteer responsibilities, or approved vacation, funeral leave, military leave, jury duty, hospitalization, work-related injuries, or leaves of absence.
Additionally, AutoZone had an ADA policy and a dispute mechanism for employees to contest occurrence points and discipline received, including termination. Before termination, based on attendance, an AutoZone regional human resources manager had to review the employee’s file to consider their medical issues and other circumstances that might weigh against termination. The manager also had to consider whether other employees in the same store had 12 or more points but remained employed, as many did.
The EEOC and Autozoners both filed motions for summary judgment. The court partially granted Autozoners’ motion, dismissing AutoZone Inc. as a defendant and some parts of one plaintiff’s claim. The court declined to dismiss the bulk of the claims against Autozoners, rejecting the company’s argument that its attendance policy was fundamental to attendance as an essential job function. The court reasoned that while prolonged absences could justify termination, the ADA might require an employer to allow an employee ample time off work as a reasonable accommodation for their disability. As a result, accruing 12 points under AutoZone’s attendance policy would not necessarily make an employee unable to perform their essential job functions.