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EEOC says firm discriminated against worker with breast cancer

A key aspect of the Americans with Disabilities Act is the fact that employers need to grant reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. In order to eliminate artificial barriers to employment, employers must work with disabled employees to provide things that may be necessary such as a restructuring of duties, tools for the job, a job-protected leave, a modified work schedule or a reassignment, for example. When employers fail to abide by the law and provide accommodations, there may be consequences.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently accused a law firm of violating the ADA when it refused to accommodate an employee who developed a condition due to her breast cancer treatment. When the support services assistant asked for an accommodation related to heavy lifting, she was reportedly instead put on leave and then fired.

The woman was working for the law firm in 2008 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her job included copy room duties like making copies and scanning documents.

In 2009, she developed lymphedema, which limits one's immune and/or circulatory system, due to her cancer treatment. By 2010, the condition was exacerbated by lifting boxes at work. A doctor then told her she cannot lift more than 10 pounds, and her employer expressed concerns about her not being able to do her job.

About eight months later, her doctor said she could lift up to 20 pounds, and at that point the law firm told her it did not want her to work there until she had no lifting restrictions. She was then put on leave and ultimately fired.

The EEOC is now seeking back pay and damages for the worker. It is a violation of the ADA to refuse to reasonably accommodate a disabled worker. In a case such as this, an accommodation might have been to excuse the woman from lifting duties; exchange her lifting tasks with another task; or even purchase some sort of tool she could use for lifting. Additionally, it may have been possible to temporarily or permanently assign her to another position. In most cases, a reasonable accommodation is possible. Those who have been denied accommodations may be wise to talk with an employment law attorney.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "EEOC Sues Womble Carlyle for Disability Discrimination," Jan. 16, 2013

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