Federal Agency Says Food Service Company Denied Long-Term Employee Accommodations, Then Fired and Failed to Rehire Her Because of Her Disability
CHICAGO - American Blue Ribbons Holding, LLC, dba Legendary Baking, violated federal law by refusing to accommodate an employee with a disability and then firing her and failing to rehire her, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
According to Julianne Bowman, EEOC's district director in Chicago, who managed EEOC's pre-suit administrative investigation, Patricia Hall, a long-term employee at Legendary Baking's Oak Forest, Ill., baking facility, developed CSP myelopathy, a condition affecting the spinal cord, as a result of injury outside of work. This condition required Hall to take a leave of absence in order to have surgery. While recuperating, Hall sought to return to work with restrictions in a temporary light-duty capacity, but was told that she was ineligible because such work was reserved for employees injured on the job. As a result, Hall remained on leave and was terminated for failure to return to work at the expiration of 180 days, pursuant to Legendary Baking's leave policy. When Hall was released to full duty a month later, she sought rehire, but was denied, EEOC said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, which can include denying reasonable accommodations to disabled employees, terminating their employment, and failing to hire or rehire disabled individuals.
EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The case, EEOC v. American Blue Ribbons Holding, LLC d/b/a Legendary Baking, Civil Action No. 16-cv-8266, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, and was assigned to U.S. District Judge John Blakey. The government's litigation effort will be led by Trial Attorney Laurie Elkin and supervised by EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Greg Gochanour.
"Employers need to understand that that they are required to make their light-duty programs available to employees with disabilities who are recuperating from restrictions, even if they are unrelated to an on-the-job injury," said John Hendrickson, the regional attorney for EEOC's Chicago District Office. "If Legendary Baking had complied with this requirement, Ms. Hall might still be working there productively today. Legendary Baking could have provided her with the relatively simple accommodations of providing her with a temporary light-duty assignment or extending her leave of absence for a month. There appears to be no justification for Legendary Baking's failure to rehire Ms. Hall once she was released to return to work on full duty."
Laurie Elkin, who will be spearheading EEOC's litigation effort, added, "It doesn't matter whether the disabling injury occurred on the job or not. The pertinent question is: Is the employee disabled within the meaning of the law, and must he or she be accommodated? The answers here were clearly 'yes.'"
EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of employment discrimination, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.