Employee With Hepatitis C Fired for Taking Approved Disability Leave, Federal Agency Charges
INDIANAPOLIS -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today filed suit against AT&T Corp., a leader in telecommunication services, for failing to reasonably accommodate a long-term employee’s disability and then firing her because of that disability.
According to the EEOC’s suit, Lupe Cardona, who worked for AT&T Corp. as a customer service representative in Indianapolis from 1984, requested a reasonable accommodation in the form of a finite leave of absence in order to receive interferon treatment for Hepatitis C. Without the treatment, her disease could have eventually been fatal. Upon learning of Cardona’s disability and need for a leave of absence, AT&T granted her leave request. Thus, Cardona was on an approved, paid medical leave of absence from June 24 to Oct. 24, 2010, when her physician determined the treatment was successful and released her to return to work without restriction. Two days later, AT&T fired her, claiming her use of approved leave to receive life-saving treatment violated its attendance policy. AT&T refused to provide Cardona a reasonable accommodation by exempting her leave of absence from its no-fault attendance policy.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana (EEOC v. AT&T Corp., Civil Case No.: 1:12-cv-0402-TWP-DKL) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC’s lawsuit seeksback pay, compensatory and punitive damages and reinstatement or front pay for Cardona as well as injunctive relief, including a court order prohibiting AT&T from failing to provide reasonable accommodation to disabled employees by counting absences caused by their disability as “chargeable,” or unprotected, absences under its attendance policy.
“The refusal of AT&T to make a perfectly reasonable exception to its draconian attendance policy to accommodate the known disability of an employee violated federal law as well as common sense and common decency,” said EEOC trial attorney Patrick Holman.
Barbara A. Seely, regional attorney of the EEOC’s St. Louis District Office, added, “This employer’s conduct is precisely what Congress had in mind when enacting the ADA. The very essence of reasonable accommodation is making exceptions to hard-and-fast rules in circumstances like this when to do so causes no undue hardship to the employer – and failing to do so might cause grave harm. AT&T’s actions here were not only baffling, but downright cruel.”
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.