Here in Milwaukee, and throughout the country, people are protected from workplace discrimination based upon a number of things. These include race, age, disability, sex, pregnancy, nationality and religion, among others. However, Wisconsin residents may be surprised about something for which they can be discriminated against: their weight.
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."
Here in Wisconsin, and throughout the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act generally requires employers to move workers who may lose their jobs because of disabilities into vacant positions for which they are qualified. This is a very important protection under federal employment law, because a disability can strike an American worker at any time and this should not automatically result in job loss.
When we hear the word "disability," we tend to think of disabilities that are obvious. We know that a person in a wheelchair or a person with a white cane has a disability. There are, though, less obvious types of disability that we may not notice right away: mood disorders or chronic diseases, for example. Congress understood this when crafting the Americans with Disabilities Act.
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.
Working with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a former library services director has filed a lawsuit against her employer after being fired in alleged violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and age discrimination laws. After working at a county library district for seven years, she was diagnosed with cancer and had to be hospitalized after undergoing surgery.
We are wrapping up our discussion of a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that the majority said would bring the circuit into line with the other federal appeals courts. It will not, according to critics. The decision adds another variation to the interpretation of what lawyers refer to as causation language in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
We are continuing our discussion of a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision. A woman claimed that her former employer fired her at least in part because her medical condition required her to use a wheelchair. A decision like that would have been a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When the federal circuit courts of appeal disagree on the interpretation of a federal law, a couple of things can happen. At times, the U.S. Supreme Court can settle the matter by hearing a case and rendering a decision. Another possibility is that the circuits can slowly align over time, agreeing one by one that a particular interpretation makes more sense.
A motor carrier company in Indiana, Celadon Trucking Services, Inc., was sued by the EEOC for allegedly requiring applicants to submit to physical examinations, in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"). See EEOC v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc., Cause No. 1:12-cv-0275-SEB-TAB. The problem, according to the EEOC, is not that Celadon required applicants to undergo a pre-employment physical examination, but that it did so before giving the applicants a conditional offer of employment.