On Friday, May 13, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced the approval of the resolution of a nationwide disability discrimination case against home improvement, appliance, and hardware giant, Lowe’s. U.S. District Court Judge André Birotte Jr. approved the consent decree which calls for the distribution of $8.6 million.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws (20 employees in age discrimination cases). Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered. The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.
According to EEOC’s suit, Lowe’s violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against people with disabilities by firing them and by failing to provide reasonable accommodations to them when their medical leaves of absence exceeded Lowe’s 180-day (and, subsequently, 240-day) maximum leave policy. EEOC also charged that Lowe’s violated the ADA by terminating individuals who were “regarded as” disabled, had a record of disability, or were associated with someone with a disability.
In addition to monetary relief, the four-year consent decree settling the suit requires Lowe’s to retain a consultant with ADA experience to review and revise company policies as appropriate; implement effective training for both supervisors and staff on the ADA; develop a centralized tracking system for employee requests for accommodation; maintain an accommodation log; and post documentation related to this settlement. Lowe’s is also required to submit regular reports to EEOC verifying compliance with the decree.
This settlement makes clear that employers’ policies limiting the amount of leave may violate the ADA when they call for the automatic firing of employees with a disability after they reach a rigid, inflexible leave limit.
According to company information, Lowe’s, a Fortune 50 company headquartered in Mooresville, N.C., operates more than 1,840 home improvement and hardware stores across North America. In 2014, company revenues totaled $56.2 billion.
Addressing emerging and developing issues under the ADA is one of six national priorities identified by EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan. Employers subject to EEOC regulation should take steps to ensure that they are compliant with ADA requirements, as well as any other potentially discriminatory area.