U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
New Orleans Location Fired Employee Because of Obesity, Federal Agency Says
NEW ORLEANS — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed suit against Resources for Human Development, Inc. (RHD), for firing an employee because of her obesity, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the agency announced today. The case arose from the charge of a former RHD employee, Lisa Harrison, who claimed that RHD fired her from a New Orleans facility because of her disability.
According to the EEOC’s suit (No. 2:10-cv-03322 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana), Harrison began working for RHD in 1999, as a Prevention / Intervention Specialist. Harrison worked with young children of mothers undergoing treatment for addiction. RHD fired Harrison in September of 2007 because of her severe obesity, the suit alleges. Harrison had worked for RHD at a location operating under the name of Family House of Louisiana, in Terrytown, La., a suburb of New Orleans. The EEOC alleges that, as a result of her obesity, RHD perceived Harrison as being substantially limited in a number of major life activities, including walking. Harrison was able, according to the lawsuit, to perform all of the essential functions of her position. Before the EEOC filed suit, Harrison died. Her private interests will be represented in the lawsuit by her estate.
Disability discrimination violates the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. The EEOC filed the lawsuit after efforts to resolve the case through settlement were unsuccessful.
Keith Hill, the field director of the EEOC’s New Orleans office, stated, “This is a classic case of disability bias, based on myths and stereotypes. The evidence shows that Ms. Harrison was a good and dedicated employee who did not deserve to be fired. All covered employers, whether for-profit or non-profit, must abide by the ADA’s provisions.”
Jim Sacher, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Houston, who is in charge of all EEOC litigation in Louisiana, said, “The filing of this suit sends a strong message to employers that they cannot fire disabled employees based on perceptions and prejudice. Ms. Harrison’s obesity did not interfere with the care she provided to young children. Those children deserved better from her employer just as she did. The EEOC will continue to scrutinize situations like this very closely, and to file suit where necessary to enforce the ADA. That extends to unfortunate circumstances, like those here, where the fired employee has subsequently died.”
According to company information, the company is a non-profit Pennsylvania corporation doing business in Louisiana. RHD has many facilities and employs over 4,000 employees, and it oversees more than 160 programs in 14 states.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.