February 17, 2022
Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Trucking Company Terminated Two Long-Term Employees Because They Exhausted FMLA Medical Leave, Federal Agency Charged
A trucking company and a property management company will pay $65,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
The defendants in the EEOC’s case are Groendyke Transport, Inc., one of the largest tank truck carriers in the United States, headquartered in Enid, Oklahoma, and McKenzie Property Management (formerly known as McKenzie Tank Lines, Inc.), headquartered in Tallahassee, Florida. The EEOC said that Groendyke’s predecessor, McKenzie Tank Lines, failed to provide a reasonable accommodation and fired two long-term employees because of their disabilities.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, it was McKenzie’s policy to terminate employees not able to return to work after exhausting the maximum 12 weeks of medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). One of the employees, who worked as a tractor trailer mechanic in Pensacola, Florida for 30 years, was denied additional leave of approximately three weeks after exhausting his FMLA leave and was dismissed. The other employee, who worked as a truck driver for 20 years in Houston, needed approximately one week of additional leave after his FMLA leave expired, but was fired instead.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees from discrimination based on their disabilities and requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation if it does not create an undue hardship. The EEOC’s Birmingham District Office filed its lawsuit (EEOC v. Groendyke Transport, Inc and McKenzie Property Management, Inc. f/k/a McKenzie Tank Lines, Inc.., Case No. 3:19-cv-02830-RV-EMT) against McKenzie in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on July 29, 2019, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. The EEOC later amended its suit to add Groendyke as a defendant after learning McKenzie had sold substantially all of its assets and operations to Groendyke.
In addition to monetary relief, the three-year consent decree settling the lawsuit requires the companies to provide training to their employees on their obligations under the law and develop, implement and maintain anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies. The decree also prohibits them from engaging in any unlawful discrimination or retaliation because of disability. The decree further requires that the companies post notices on their bulletin boards informing employees of their right to contact the EEOC if they feel they have been discriminated or retaliated against.
“Policies that lead to the automatic termination of employees immediately upon the expiration of FMLA leave conflict with the ADA – specifically, its requirement that an employer engage in an interactive process with an employee to determine whether an accommodation that does not create an undue hardship is possible,” Marsha Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District, said. “Additional leave can be a reasonable accommodation.”
EEOC Birmingham District Director Bradley Anderson added, “This case serves as a reminder that the ADA can provide additional protection to employees beyond that required by the FMLA. We appreciate the efforts of Groendyke and McKenzie to reach a resolution of this lawsuit that provides equitable and monetary relief for these two employees who devoted much of their life in service to their employer and were fired through no fault of their own.”
The EEOC’s Birmingham District consists of Alabama, Mississippi (except 17 northern counties) and the Florida Panhandle.
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