Company Refused to Provide Reasonable Accommodations and Fired Employee with Fibromyalgia, Federal Agency Charged
DENVER - Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc. of Denver will pay $112,500 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to EEOC's lawsuit, Brookdale discriminated against an employee due to her disability, fibromyalgia. Bernadine Adams worked for Brookdale as a health and wellness director. After Adams took leave from work due to symptoms of fibromyalgia, Brookdale refused her request for a temporary modified work schedule, an ergonomic chair, and adjustments to the lighting in her office. Further, Brookdale required Adams to remain on leave until she was able to return to work without any restrictions or accommodations. After further requests for accommodation and a discrimination charge, Brookdale fired Adams by letter, stating she "failed to engage in the interactive process within reasonable terms."
Denying reasonable accommodations to a qualified individual with a disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Terminating an employee for exercising her rights under the ADA violates that law's prohibition on retaliation.
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado (EEOC v. Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc., Civil Action No. 14-cv-02643-KMT) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The court approved the settlement and will retain jurisdiction for purposes of compliance for two years.
According to the decree, Brookdale will pay $112,500 to Adams to resolve the case. Brookdale is also required to train all employees and district managers responsible for its Mountain View community on the ADA's requirements, including the need to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities. Brookdale will also report to EEOC if there are any further complaints of disability discrimination or retaliation.
"The ADA requires that employers try to find a way to help an employee with a disability perform his or her job," said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill. "As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA, employers need to know that snap judgments and refusals to consider reasonable accommodations can lead to violations of the law. Sometimes the employer and employees will have to engage in a number of conversations and discussions of options in order to arrive at an effective reasonable accommodation. Employers should also know that imposing a requirement that employees be without any restrictions whatsoever in order to return to work is a recipe for disaster."
EEOC Denver Field Office Director John C. Lowrie added, "it is important that employers make conscious and deliberate reasonable accommodation decisions based on facts and not myths, fears, or stereotypes. We commend Brookdale for agreeing to take steps to ensure that its employees and managers understand what is required by federal law."
According to its website, Brookdale Senior Living operates 1,150 communities nationwide, offering independent living, assisted living, dementia care and skilled nursing, with 80,000 associates serving about 100,000 residents.
EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.