Filing two new lawsuits, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is cracking down on employers allegedly discriminating against workers with cancer.
In Oklahoma the agency filed suit against Midwest Regional Medical Center on behalf of nurse aide Janice Withers. According to the complaint, Withers was terminated after taking sick days due to the side effects of her radiation treatments. Diagnosed in December 2011 with basal cell carcinoma, Withers underwent radiation treatment in January and February of the following year. Her supervisor offered a leave of absence, but Withers chose to remain working.
Instead, Withers called in sick on three days because of nausea and fatigue, residual side effects of her radiation treatments, the agency said. On the fourth day, her supervisor called to tell her she was being put on leave for an additional week to "get rested up from the radiation," sending a letter to confirm the agreement. But Withers was then discharged in the interim for being a "no-show."
Her termination violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the agency alleged, because Withers could have performed her essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodation - had Midwest Regional permitted.
In a second suit filed just two days later, the EEOC claims that Kyklos Bearing International, an Ohio-based bearings manufacturer, illegally fired forklift operator Donique Price because she, too, suffered from cancer.
KBI told Price she lost her job because medical restrictions limited her ability to lift and the company did not have any light-duty work available. But the EEOC argued the employer's stated reason was a "ruse for disability discrimination." Price had submitted written documentation from her doctor clearing her to work without any medical restrictions after she returned to work following surgery and treatment for her cancer, according to the complaint.
Both suits seek injunctive relief halting future discrimination practices by the employers. The Withers suit also requested back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and reinstatement or front pay. Price asked for compensatory and punitive damages and lost wages and benefits.
To read the complaint in EEOC v. Midwest Regional Medical Center, click here.
To read the complaint in EEOC v. Kyklos Bearing International, click here.
Why it matters: In a press release announcing the Price complaint against KBI, the EEOC noted that the suit reflects the agency's stated goals: "One of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan is for the agency to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA and pregnancy-related limitations, among other possible issues." Employers should be cognizant that the agency is keeping a close eye on ADA issues and that employees with cancer are considered a category of emerging and developing plaintiffs for the EEOC.