Supermarket Chain Failed to Accommodate and Fired Long-Time Employee After She Tried to Use Medical Leave to Manage Her Condition, Federal Agency Charged
DENVER - Dillon Companies, which does business in Colorado as King Soopers, Inc., a large retail food company, refused to accommodate and unlawfully fired a receptionist at its company headquarters because of her bipolar condition, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Denver.
According to the EEOC's suit (EEOC v. Dillon Companies, Inc., d/b/a King Soopers, Inc. 12-cv-02458-REB-KMT, King Soopers refused to accommodate Kelly Ferris's need for sufficient time off to manage her bipolarism. Hired as a receptionist in 2003, Ferris worked at King Soopers' headquarters on Tejon Street in Denver for five years before she was discharged while on medical leave. Ferris requested use of the company's 18-month medical leave policy, explaining that she needed the time to manage a flare-up in her disability, but during her fifth month of company leave,King Soopers fired her for failing to report to work without permission.
Disability discrimination violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to engage in an interactive process with employees in good faith, exploring what accommodations for a disability are possible. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks monetary damages on behalf of Ferris, training on anti-discrimination laws, an injunction, posting of anti-discrimination notices at the work site and other injunctive relief.
Under the ADA, medical leave constitutes a reasonable accommodation. The length of leave is considered reasonable if it coincides with leave already required by federal or state laws or which is available under a company's general leave policies. An employer discriminates against a disabled employee if the employer fails to provide her with the same length of leave it provides the rest of its work force, and does so because of her disability.
"Bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions have long been misunderstood in society," said EEOC Phoenix Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill. "Employees who have bipolar disorder are frequently subject to unfair stereotypes about their ability to work. That's why the EEOC filed this lawsuit."
Denver EEOC Field Director Nancy Sienko added, "Employees with bipolar disorder and other psychiatric disabilities are productive members of the work force when afforded equal opportunity to be so, especially when employers comply with their duty under the ADA to provide reasonable accommodation such as time off, and eliminate stereotypes from the workplace."
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.