Company Failed to Accommodate and Fired Employee Due to Disability, Federal Agency Charged
HICKORY, N.C. - Spencer Gifts LLC (Spencer), a Delaware corporation that operates novelty gift stores throughout the United States and Canada, will pay $90,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, in 2013, an employee who had worked for Spencer as the store manager of its Hickory, N.C. store since early 2009, was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the body's connective tissue. Spencer was aware of the condition and in December of 2016, the employee informed Spencer she required surgery on her knee and would need recovery time. Between Dec. 7, 2016 and Jan. 8, 2017, the employee requested a number of accommodations from Spencer, including allowing her to work while using an assistive device-such as a cane, crutches or walker-and light or modified duty. Spencer refused to provide the employee with any accommodation that would allow her to return to work. Spencer fired the employee on Jan. 14, 2017, when she exhausted her short-term disability benefits.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with a disability unless doing so would be an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, (EEOC v. Spencer Gifts, LLC, Case No. 5:18-CV-00155) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to providing monetary relief for the employee, the two-year consent decree resolving the suit requires Spencer to provide annual training to its human resources employees and managers on the prohibition of disability discrimination and requests for reasonable accommodations under the ADA. The decree further requires Spencer to adopt a policy specific to the ADA; to post an anti-discrimination notice in its North Carolina stores; and to track accommodation requests and report them to the EEOC.
"This year marks the 30th anniversary of the ADA and this settlement serves as a reminder of its purpose," said Kara G. Haden, acting regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District. "We encourage all employers to review their disability accommodation policies and practices to ensure they comply with the ADA."