Refusing Reemployment to Employees with Restrictions Leads to EEOC Settlement

Reasonable accommodation issues continue to prove challenging for employers, and a recent EEOC settlement stresses the importance of remaining compliant in this area.  American Airlines and Envoy Air have agreed to pay $9.8 million in stock (worth over $14 million if cashed in today) to settle a nationwide class disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the EEOC.
 
The lawsuit alleged that the airlines denied reasonable accommodation requests by hundreds of employees.  The EEOC claimed that the airlines required employees to have no restrictions before they could return to work following a medical leave.  This meant that employees who were released to work with restrictions were refused reemployment and not provided reasonable accommodations that would have allowed them to return to work with restrictions.
 
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law that prohibits discrimination based on disability and mandates the provision of reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. If employees with disabilities are not able to do their current job, with or without reasonable accommodation, employers are obligated to explore reassignment to vacant position for which those employees are qualified.
 
The parties entered into a two-year consent decree this month to resolve the EEOC’s lawsuit.  In addition to a payment of $9.8 million in stock, the consent decree enjoins the airlines from engaging in any future discrimination or retaliation based on disability.  The companies are also required to adopt policies that ensure reasonable accommodations are provided to persons with disabilities, and to provide periodic ADA training to employees across the country.
 
According to Elizabeth Cadle, district director for the Phoenix office where the case originated, “This settlement demonstrates the need for employers to have good ADA policies. That means policies which consider employers’ obligations to provide reassignment without competition as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities who become unable to do their current job even with accommodations.”