The EEOC Announces Multiple Six Figure Settlements of 100% Healed Cases.

posted by Neil Klingshirn  |  Oct 27, 2015 2:04 PM [EST]  |  applies to Ohio

100% Healed Policies: A Recipe for Disaster.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently announced six figure settlements of multiple federal lawsuits alleging employer failures to accommodate employees who tried to return to work after medical leaves. The cases arose when employers ignored employees’ requests to return to work or required them to return to work only when they could perform full, unrestricted duties without accommodations. “Employers should know that imposing a requirement that employees be without any restrictions whatsoever in order to return to work is a recipe for disaster,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill.

The EEOC first announced two settlements on August 17, 2015 in EEOC v. Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc., Civil Action No. 14-cv-02643-KMT; EEOC vs. LHC Group, Inc, d/b/a Gulf Coast Homecare, Civil Action No. 1:11-cv-00355-LG –JMR. Brookdale Senior Living agreed to pay Health and Wellness Director Bernadine Adams $112,500 to settle her suit, which arose when Brookdale required Adams to remain on medical leave until she was able to return to work without any restrictions or accommodations. Brookdale also agreed to train all employees and district managers on the ADA’s requirements, including the need to provide reasonable accommodations. Similarly, Gulf Coast Homecare agreed to pay $100,000 and enter into a consent decree to settle a suit with an employee who had an epileptic seizure at work. The employee asked for accommodations when she returned to work, but Gulf Coast ignored her request and terminated her less than a month after her request for an accommodation. The consent decree requires Gulf Coast to employ a monitor, train all of its employees and allow the EEOC to monitor its compliance.

One month later, on September 23, 2015, the EEOC settled a third suit, this one involving a class of individuals with disabilities employed by CTI, Inc., a Tuscon based trucking company. CTI told one member of the class, Elizabeth Barr, that it would terminate her employment unless she returned from a 12 week FMLA leave with a medical release to “full unrestricted duty.” Ms. Barr, who has a rare eye disease that required numerous eye surgeries, could not do so, so CTI terminated her employment on the day her FMLA leave ended. CTI agreed to pay $300,000 to settle the suit and to enter into a consent decree requiring training, reporting, monitoring, job offers to the disabled employees, an apology and a positive letter of reference. Commenting on the CTI settlement, Regional EEOC Attorney Mary Jo O’Neil again noted that “employers should know they violate the law when they have blanket policies requiring disabled employees not to return to work until they are 100% healed.”

A Bright Line Gets Brighter

These employer should have known that their “100% healed” policies violated the ADA. In 2009, for example, the EEOC settled a suit with Sears, Roebuck and Co. for $6,200,000 for terminating employees who had taken workers compensation leaves without considering reasonable accommodations to return them to work while they were on leave, or a brief extension of their leave to make a return to work possible. “Just as it is a truism that never having to come to work is manifestly not a reasonable accommodation, it is also true that inflexible leave policies which ignore reasonable accommodations making it possible to get employees back on the job cannot survive under federal law. Today’s consent decree is a bright line marker of that reality,” warned Chicago Regional EEOC Attorney John Hendrickson.

Three new EEOC settlements have drawn that line $512,000 brighter.

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Neil Klingshirn

Neil Klingshirn
AV rated Super Lawyer and Employment Law Specialist
Independence, OH
Phone: 216-382-2500