Some people here in Milwaukee may have heard the news last week that the number of unemployed people with disabilities has recently surged upward. The U.S. Department of Labor announced last week that 2 percent more disabled people sought unemployment benefits in January 2013 compared to January 2012.
A frequent topic in this Wisconsin employment law blog is the Americans with Disabilities Act. This federal law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against a person because of his or her disability. In fact, it even requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations when a physical or mental disability makes a work activity difficult or impossible.
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."
A newspaper recently agreed to pay a disabled employee $150,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit. A commercial print manager for the Jackson Sun took a medical leave of absence from work related to a spinal surgery and subsequent permanent spinal cord damage. Following his return to work, and after only one week back on the job, the print manager was fired. An EEOC press release alleges that Jackson Sun did not make a good-faith effort to accommodate the print manager's disability.