Company Refused to Accommodate Deaf Employee, Then Fired Her, Federal Agency Charges
OSHKOSH, Wis. – Miles Kimball Company of Oshkosh, Wis., violated federal law by denying Laura Nejedlo an accommodation for her disability (deafness) and then firing her, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has charged in a new lawsuit.
According to John Rowe, director of EEOC’s Chicago District, which includes Wisconsin, the agency’s investigation revealed that while working in Miles Kimball’s Information Technology Department in 2007, Nejedlo was assigned to use a new software program for the company’s computer system. She was allegedly denied her requested accommodation of a sign language interpreter for training and so could not fully utilize the new program. In February 2008, after 13 years of successful employment with Miles Kimball, Nejedlo was fired. Denying an employee a reasonable accommodation and then firing her because of her disability 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 agency seeks lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages for Nejedlo, an order barring future discrimination, and other relief. The suit, captioned EEOC v. Miles Kimball Co. (Civil Action No. 11-C-850), was filed Sept. 8 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and assigned to U.S. District Judge William Griesbach.
“The ADA was enacted to ensure that people with disabilities can earn a living if they can perform their work with or without a reasonable accommodation,” Rowe said. “All Ms. Nejedlo wanted was a sign language interpreter for training so she could keep on performing successfully. Our contention is that there was no good reason why Miles Kimball denied her an interpreter and then fired her.”
EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson added, “In our view, this is one of those cases in which a reasonable accommodation would have made all the difference. An employer would have kept an able and loyal long-term employee. The employee would have kept a needed job. That didn’t happen, apparently because of a violation of federal disability law. Our objective here will be to set things right.”
According to Miles Kimball’s website, the company has 1,300 employees in its Oshkosh facilities. It sells Christmas cards, home accessories, cookware, candy and high-end décor through catalogs. One of America’s largest direct marketers of consumer gifts and household products, Miles Kimball is a subsidiary of Blyth, Inc., of Greenwich, Conn. Blyth markets home fragrance products, decorative accessories, seasonal decorations and household convenience items.
The EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. The case will be litigated by attorneys in the Milwaukee Area Office.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the Commission is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.