Home Depot, the world's largest home improvement retailer, recently settled a disability discrimination lawsuit, filed by the EEOC on behalf of a worker, for $100,000. Judy Henderson, who worked for the home improvement chain as a cashier for 13 years, requested permission to take an unpaid leave of absence to attend cancer treatments. The EEOC alleged that while Home Depot granted the leave, it later advised Ms. Henderson that if she did not advise the company of her status during the leave it would terminate her employment. Ms. Henderson provided medical notes confirming her return to work date. Nonetheless, Home Depot fired her claiming an alleged lack of work. However, the EEOC noted that in the past Home Depot used temporary lay offs when there was a lack of work and the company even hired two cashiers after Ms. Henderson submitted her medical documentation. According to an EEOC press release, the Home Depot's excuse for termination "was but a subterfuge for disability discrimination." EEOC regional attorney, Debra M. Lawrence stated, "it flies in the face of common sense and common decency to refuse to work with an employee who is battling cancer."
It is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA") to terminate an employee because of a disability. Under the ADA, an individual is disabled if they have/are: "(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment." Further, employers are required by the ADA to provide a reasonable accommodation to the disabled employee, as long as it does not impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business. Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., EEOC Philadelphia District Director, stated, "[e]mployers must give unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation unless they can prove it would be a significant cost or disruption to its business."
An employer who violates the ADA, may be held responsible for paying lost wages, costs and attorneys fees, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and could be ordered to reinstate the employment. Here, in order to settle the case, the Home Depot agreed to pay Ms. Henderson $100,000, provide anti-discrimination training to employees, and to post a notice regarding the resolution of the lawsuit.
Attorney is an associate attorney with Alan C. Olson & Associates, S.C. If you have any questions about disability discrimination, please contact her at [email protected].