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EEOC Lawsuit Highlights Risks of Inflexible Termination Policies

A lawsuit recently filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS) demonstrates the risk of ADA discrimination claims when employers have inflexible termination policies. Although the lawsuit has just been filed, and the court has not decided the case, employers should be aware of the implications of violating the ADA.

In EEOC v. UPS, a former UPS employee took a 12 month leave of absence after she began having symptoms that were later diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. UPS had a policy allowing employees to take up to 12 months off for medical leave. When the employee in question exhausted this leave, the EEOC alleges the employee requested an additional two weeks of leave. The employee claimed she could have returned to her job after those two weeks. Instead of allowing the alleged request for an additional two weeks of leave, UPS instead terminated her employment.

The EEOC's lawsuit against UPS alleges that its 12 month medical leave policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it is too stringent and does not accommodate employees with disabilities. UPS, however, claims its policy is "not automatic or absolute." The EEOC is seeking a permanent injunction enjoining UPS from continuing its allegedly inflexible termination practice, damages for the terminated employee, as well as for a class of all employees affected by the discriminatory policy, for past and future monetary losses, including back pay and job search expenses, financial damages for pain and suffering, and punitive damages.

The ADA requires that a covered employer provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities, provided those accommodations do not present an undue burden to the employer. In some cases, an additional period of unpaid leave after the exhaustion of the employer's standard medical leave period, or a leave period required by the Family and Medical Leave Act, may be a reasonable accommodation. In general, these additional leave periods need not be indefinite and may be limited to a finite period of time after which the employee is expected to be able to perform the essential functions of his or her job. EEOC v. UPS, however, shows that employers who fail to consider allowing additional unpaid leave face the risk of expensive litigation and the multitude of damages available for ADA violations.
 

© 2020 Poyner Spruill LLP. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume , Number 293
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About this Author

David L. Woodard, Employment Litigation Attorney, Poyner Spruill, Law firm
Partner

David practices in the area of employment litigation.  He regularly advises and defends clients in race, age, disability and sex discrimination and harassment cases; reviews handbooks and termination issues; and provides compliance advice on matters of employment law.

Representative Experience

McNeil v. Scotland County - Obtained summary judgment for employer where plaintiff alleged race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as well as violation of the Americans...

919-783-2854
Kevin M. Ceglowski, Employment and Labor Lawyer, Poyner Spruill, Law Firm
Partner

Kevin represents employers in many areas of labor and employment law, including race, age, gender, religion, national original, and disability employment discrimination claims, wrongful discharge claims, and wage and hour claims. He defends clients before administrative agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Labor, and the North Carolina Employment Security Commission, in state and federal courts, and in arbitrations. Kevin also provides guidance to management to ensure employment practices are in full compliance with all...

919-783-2853
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