October 22, 2021
Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Employer Fired Worker With Disability Instead of Allowing Her to Return to Work With an Oxygen Device, Federal Agency Charged
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Strategic Equipment, LLC, doing business as TriMark Foodcraft, LLC, a Delaware corporation that specializes in commercial kitchen equipment and operates a distribution facility in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has agreed to pay $25,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, Jean S. Perry is an individual with a disability who worked for Trimark through a temporary placement agency as an accounts payable costing clerk. In December 2018, Perry was admitted to the hospital for breathing complications related to her disability. Perry attempted to return to work, but when she notified Trimark that she required the use of a personal oxygen device and would need to bring it to work with her, Trimark fired her. The EEOC’s position is that Trimark had a legal obligation to permit Perry to use her oxygen tank at work as a reasonable accommodation and that it unlawfully discharged her because of a disability.
The conduct alleged by the EEOC violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits workplace discrimination based on disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities unless doing so would be an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina (EEOC v. Strategic Equipment, LLC d/b/a TriMark Foodcraft, LLC, Civil Action No. 1:20-cv-01000) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process.
In addition to providing monetary relief to Perry, the two-year consent decree settling the suit requires TriMark to amend its current anti-discrimination policy to include examples of job modifications that may qualify as reasonable accommodations under the ADA and to post the policy where it is visible to employees. The decree further requires TriMark to conduct annual ADA training for human resource employees and specialized training for the decision maker. Trimark is required to provide periodic reports to the EEOC.
“The ADA requires an individualized assessment to determine whether a reasonable accommodation can be provided without causing an undue hardship for the employer or a direct threat to other employees,” said Melinda C. Dugas, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office. “Employers cannot prevent employees from being productive members of the workforce because of mere inconvenience or preconceived ideas about medical conditions. Further, direct threat determinations cannot be based on irrational fears or generalized conclusions. Such decisions must be based on the best available objective evidence.”
EEOC District Director Thomas Colclough said, “The ADA was created to ensure a level playing field for everyone in the workplace. This settlement represents a step forward in ensuring that the dream of equal opportunity in the workplace is realized by all employees regardless of their protected status. I applaud TriMark in taking this step by training its human resources employees on the ADA and the protections the ADA affords people with disabilities.”
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest news by subscribing to EEOC email updates.