Common Employer Mistake Draws Lawsuit by EEOC – October 1, 2006

One of the most common employer misunderstandings caused Denny’s to violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and resulted in a lawsuit filed against the company by the EEOC. Denny’s failed failed to provide reasonable accommodation for medical leave according to the EEOC lawsuit.

Employers can fine an important lesson in this case. The EEOC charges that Denny’s violated the rights of a class of workers with disabilities by maintaining a maximum medical leave policy that automatically denied additional medical leave beyond a pre-determined limit — even when additional leave was required by the ADA as a reasonable accommodation for those workers — resulting in their unlawful terminations. Many employers have similar policies that may violate the ADA when they are enforced across the board and do not permit exceptions to the policy – additional leave time – as an accommodation to an employee who has exhausted medical leave limits under a company policy.

The EEOC also charges that Denny’s refused to provide one of its restaurant managers with a legally required reasonable accommodations for her disability, a leg amputation; prohibited her from working in its restaurants because of her disability, despite her desire to return to work; and fired the employee because of her disability.

The EEOC seeks a court order requiring Denny’s to comply with the ADA and barring Denny’s from applying its maximum medical leave policy to disabled employees who are lawfully entitled to additional medical leave. In addition, EEOC seeks lost wages and benefits, compensatory and punitive damages, and other relief for victims and the public.

Employers should review their medical leave policies and ADA accommodation practices to ensure that they are in compliance with the law. An employee may be entitled to additional medical leave beyong the maximum amount allowed under company policy, as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Contact Ann Plunkett at WorkPlace Partners, Inc. with questions or for additional information.