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Interstate Distributor Company to Pay Nearly $5 Million to Settle EEOC Disability Suit

Nationwide Trucking Firm's Policies Discriminated Against Disabled Employees, Federal Agency Charges

DENVER -- Interstate Distributor Company will pay $4.85 million and provide other significant relief to settle a nationwide class disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced last week. The EEOC's suit said the nationwide trucking firm unlawfully denied reasonable accommodations to hundreds of employees and fired them pursuant to Interstate's maximum leave policy. 

According to the EEOC's suit, under the challenged leave policy, if an employee needed more than 12 weeks of leave, Interstate automatically terminated them rather than determining if it would be reasonable to provide additional leave as an accommodation. The EEOC also charged that Interstate violated federal law by refusing to make exceptions to its "no restrictions" policy. Under this policy, if an employee had restrictions, Interstate refused to allow them to return to work and failed to determine if there were reasonable accommodations that would allow the employee to return to work with restrictions.

Interstate's maximum leave and no restrictions policies violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability. The law requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation, such as paid or unpaid leave or some modifications to the job functions or reassignment, to an employee with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer.

The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Civil Action No. 12-cv-02591-RBJ, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The consent decree resolves the EEOC's lawsuit and seven charges of discrimination filed by individuals with the EEOC. The systemic investigation was conducted by the EEOC's Denver Field Office, which is part of the Phoenix District Office. 

In addition to the $4.85 million in monetary relief, the three-year decree includes injunctions against engaging in any further discrimination or retaliation based on disability, and requires the company to revise its policies and ADA policy to include reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities. Interstate will provide mandatory periodic training on the ADA to employees. The company will also report to the EEOC about all employee complaints of disability discrimination relating to the attendance policy and about Interstate's compliance with the consent decree. The company also agreed to post a notice about the settlement. Finally, Interstate will appoint an internal consent decree monitor to ensure its compliance with the decree. The settlement applies to all of Interstate's facilities and employees throughout the country.

EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said, "I note that this outstanding and highly impactful resolution occurred during National Disability Rights Awareness month. I am pleased the parties were able to resolve this historic case without resorting to prolonged and expensive litigation and proud that the Commission has been very successful, particularly recently, in ensuring that people with disabilities are protected from workplace discrimination."

Nancy Sienko, field director for the Denver office, added, "This settlement demonstrates the need for employers to have attendance policies which take into account the need for paid or unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities."

EEOC Regional Attorney Mary O'Neill added, "This consent decree is the result of productive and thoughtful negotiations with Interstate. We appreciate Interstate working with the EEOC to reach a settlement. In addition to providing meaningful monetary relief for hundreds of former Interstate employees, the settlement contains important equitable relief, including company policy changes and training designed to provide people with disabilities equal opportunities in the workplace." 

According to its website, www.intd.com, Interstate Distributor Company, headquartered in Tacoma, Wash., is a trucking company that operates in 48 states and Canada and employs 1,800 people nationwide.

© Copyright U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity CommissionNational Law Review, Volume II, Number 317
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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (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), 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.

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