Disabled Employee Interrogated and Fired after Seen Parking in Handicap Parking Space, Federal Agency Charged
OKLAHOMA CITY – Sysco Oklahoma LLC., a leader in food distribution, will pay $82,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that Sysco subjected a disabled employee to unlawful medical inquiries, demands and, ultimately, termination on the basis of her disability.
The EEOC alleged that Amanda Thompson, who worked for Sysco as a customer service representative, was observed legally parking in one of the employer's unreserved handicap parking spaces in February 2009. In response to this observation, Sysco confronted Thompson and demanded that she describe how she was handicapped, produce supporting medical records, and provide Sysco with a physician's full medical release stating she is 100% able to perform her job without restrictions or be terminated. Sysco made these demands notwithstanding the fact that Thompson had a valid handicap parking permit and had been performing her job satisfactorily at all times, the EEOC said. Several days later, before the deadline for providing the medical release had passed, Sysco unlawfully fired Thompson.
Such unlawful inquiries and demands related to Thompson's disability, the EEOC said, violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), as amended by the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma (EEOC v. Sysco Oklahoma LLC, Case No.: 5:11-cv-00460-HE) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. In addition to declarative relief, the EEOC's lawsuit sought back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and reinstatement or front pay for Thompson and injunctive relief, including training for all Sysco managers on disability discrimination.
The consent decree settling the suit, which must be approved by Judge Joe Heaton, also provides for injunctive relief, including posting notification to employees, revision and dissemination of anti-discrimination policies, and live training on disability anti-discrimination law. Sysco will also discontinue its practice of requiring disabled employees to be 100% able to work without considering whether they are able to work with a reasonable accommodation.
“It is alarming to know that a sophisticated, global company like Sysco, that trumpets its commitment to diversity and inclusion, would engage in such blatantly discriminatory conduct, stripping a disabled employee of not only her job, but her privacy and dignity as well,” said Barbara A. Seely, regional attorney of the EEOC's St. Louis District Office, whose jurisdiction includes Oklahoma. “Corporations and their subsidiary businesses need to do what they can to anticipate and prevent these violations of law that are both embarrassing and harmful to the employees and employers involved. We believe that this consent decree will go a long way to aid Sysco in preventing future violations.”
Sysco Oklahoma, LLC markets and distributes food and related products to restaurants, health care and educational facilities, lodging, business establishments, and food service customers throughout the Oklahoma region. The company is based in Norman, Okla. Sysco Oklahoma, LLC operates as a subsidiary of Sysco Corp.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.