The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas against Lowe’s Companies, Inc. for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The EEOC asserts that Lowe’s failed to accommodate a department manager’s disability and instead unlawfully demoted him to a lower paid position.
The ADA prohibits employment discrimination and ensures equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, § 2 et seq., 42 U.S.C.A. § 12101 et seq., available at https://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide a “reasonable accommodation” to qualified employees with disabilities, so long as such accommodation would not cause the employer “undue hardship.” Undue hardship is an action which would require significant difficulty or expense when taking into consideration an employer’s resources and overall business. Generally, larger employers will be required to make accommodations which require greater effort or expense.
In the Texas case, a Lowe’s employee suffered from a disability which limited mobility and use of his right arm. Despite his disability, the employee successfully worked in his position as department manager for six years with a reasonable accommodation before Lowe’s informed him that he would no longer be provided with an accommodation. Lowe’s then demoted the employee to an associate position, cutting his pay by over $4 per hour. The EEOC attorney pursuing the case announced that this “sudden revocation of that accommodation and the demotion in responsibility and pay clearly constitutes discrimination in violation of federal law.” Source https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/9-22-17.cfm.
Interestingly, this case comes just one year after Lowe’s paid $8.6 million to settle another ADA suit the EEOC filed against it in California. In that case, Lowe’s was accused of failing to accommodate workers who requested disability-related medical leave beyond the time permitted under the company’s strict maximum leave policy.
The question then becomes: how do employers protect themselves from such suits? Employment law attorney Keith Clouse highlights the following legal considerations for employers to keep in mind:
The ADA applies to all employers with 15 or more employees;
Under the ADA it is unlawful to discriminate in ALL employment practices, including but not limited to: hiring, firing, compensation, training, promotion, leave, benefits, and job assignment;
Training is important - managers should be trained on the requirements under the ADA, along with how to recognize when a reasonable accommodation should be provided;
The ADA prohibits employment discrimination against “qualified individuals with disabilities,” meaning an employee must be able to perform the essential job functions with or without a reasonable accommodation. Therefore, employers should have clear job descriptions listed for each position in the business outlining the “essential” job requirements;
Employers should create and implement a policy for handling accommodation requests;
Lastly, the process for addressing and working to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities should be a concerted effort between employer and employee, rather than just a one-sided decision.
In sum, employers should evaluate each accommodation request on a case-by-case basis. Many times employers will be able to collaborate with the employee to find a reasonable modification which allows the employee to perform the essential functions required by the job without imposing too much hardship on the employer.
This article is presented by the Dallas employment lawyers at Clouse Dunn LLP. To speak to an employment law attorney about an employment discrimination matter send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (214) 239-2705.
About Keith Clouse / Dallas Employment Attorney Keith Clouse
Keith Clouse is an employment law specialist with over 25 years of experience representing senior executives, business owners, physicians, and corporations in complex employment litigation, arbitration and negotiations. Senior executives, physicians and other professionals consistently rely on Mr. Clouse for employment law expertise and advice on employment contracts, covenants not to compete, severance agreements, equity awards, trade secret disputes, and breach of fiduciary duty claims. Source CDKLawyers.com