November 4, 2022
Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Company Fired Laundry Technician Because It Regarded Her as Having an Impairment, Federal Agency Charged
A jury has returned a verdict for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a former employee fired by West Meade Place, a privately owned Nashville rehabilitation and health care facility, the federal agency announced today. The case, presided over by U.S. District Judge William L. Campbell, Jr., awarded the former employee $6,000 in compensatory damages, and the court will award back pay of $6,146.72, the amount stipulated by the parties.
At the trial, the EEOC claimed West Meade discriminated against the former employee in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it fired her from a laundry technician position, despite her ability to do the job, because West Meade regarded her as having a physical or mental impairment. The former employee suffered from anxiety throughout her adult life.
Before she worked at West Meade, for years, the employee saw a doctor regularly and took medication for her anxiety. She began employment with West Meade in February 2015 and worked there until November 2015. She successfully performed her job and West Meade never disciplined her. When she requested intermittent leave to address her anxiety, West Meade discharged her after concluding she did not qualify for Family Medical Leave, claiming she was unable to perform her job duties. Later, West Meade offered another reason, alleging she had submitted a fake doctor’s note. West Meade, however, never produced the note.
On February 8, 2021, the Sixth Circuit reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the case. In October 2019, the trial court had dismissed the case, deciding that a reasonable jury could not find that West Meade Place had fired the former employee because it regarded her as having a disability.
After a three-and-a-half-day trial, on October 25, the jury found for the EEOC. Jessi Isenhart, senior trial attorney from the EEOC’s Philadelphia District, led the trial team along with Assistant Regional Attorney Amy Black from the Memphis District Office.
“This represented a very important case for the EEOC in ensuring protection in the workplace for employees whose employers regard them as having impairments,” said Faye A. Williams, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Memphis District Office. “We are pleased the jury understood that West Meade discharged the employee because it believed she had an impairment in violation of the ADA.”
Williams pointed out that although West Meade discharged the former employee in 2015, since COVID-19, anxiety disorders and depressive disorders have increased more than 25%.
“We hope this case causes employers to ensure they have procedures in the workplace explaining employees’ rights under the ADA and train their employees on the ADA,” Williams said. “If employers fail to do this, there is a high cost to pay to defend these cases.”
Edmond Sims, acting district director for the Memphis District Office, said, “October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In passing the Americans with Disabilities Act more than 32 years ago, Congress recognized that discrimination against individuals with disabilities continues to be a serious and pervasive social problem and that continuing existence of unfair and unnecessary discrimination and prejudice denies people of this community the opportunity to compete on an equal basis.”
For more information on disability discrimination, please visit eeoc.gov/disability-discrimination.
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