Social Service Agency Refused to Accommodate Long-Term Employee With Multiple Sclerosis And Denied Her Rehire, Federal Agency Charges
ST. LOUIS - An East St. Louis, Ill., non-profit social service agency violated federal law by subjecting an employee to disability discrimination and retaliation, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a discrimination lawsuit filed today. The EEOC charged that Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center (CBHC) refused to provide a reasonable accommodation to a disabled employee and then failed to rehire her after she was laid off because of her disability, and in retaliation for complaining about the lack of accommodation.
According to the EEOC's suit, Pamela Perry, a 23-year employee with CBHC, requested permission to wear athletic shoes to work in June 2002 because her disability, multiple sclerosis, caused numbness, pain and tingling in her feet. CBHC allowed her to wear athletic shoes until March 2010 when it disciplined her for wearing the shoes in violation of the dress code. Shortly thereafter, Perry made a written request for reasonable accommodation to help her complete paperwork required by her job. The MS made her hands and arms cramp and it had become increasingly difficult for her to complete paperwork in a timely fashion. Perry also again requested permission to wear athletic shoes. CBHC refused to meet with Perry to discuss possible accommodations and denied her requests. On Aug. 29, 2010, Perry wrote a letter to CBHC complaining about its refusal to accommodate her. When she was laid off on Aug. 31, 2010, she then applied for a vacant position that she had held previously for 11 years. CBHC instead hired a less qualified applicant, the EEOC said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from refusing to provide applicants and employees with reasonable accommodations unless to do so would be an undue hardship. It also protects employees from retaliation based on the exercise of their right to request accommodation and their complaints about violations of the law. The EEOC filed suit (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center of St. Clair County, Inc.) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Civil Action No. 3:12-cv-01031-WDS-SCW, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
"It is shocking that an organization like Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center, whose mission is to help those in need, would deny reasonable accommodation to a disabled 23-year employee and then refuse to rehire her in a job that she had performed in the past," said Barbara A. Seely, regional attorney of the EEOC's St. Louis District. "Employers may not cast off disabled employees who want to and can work with accommodations without running afoul of the law."
CBHC, a non-profit corporation that provides emotional, rehabilitative and social support services throughout the Illinois cities of East St. Louis, Belleville and Fairview Heights.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.