Farmington Hills Optical Store Fired Employee Because of Request for Service Dog, Federal Agency Charged
DETROIT - Direct Optical, Inc., an optical store in Farmington Hills, Mich., will pay $53,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, Direct Optical denied an optician's request for the reasonable accommodation to bring her service dog to work because of her generalized anxiety disorder. The dog alerted her to oncoming panic attacks, helped alleviate symptoms during a panic attack, and could also do other tasks, such as retrieve small objects, retrieve her medical bag and guide her to an exit. The suit further alleges that after Direct Optical denied the request it began disciplining and ultimately discharged the employee because of her disability and in retaliation for her request.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) protects employees against such alleged conduct. In particular, the ADA requires that employers provide employees with disabilities reasonable accommodation, unless the employer shows such an accommodation would cause undue hardship or be a direct threat. The ADA also protects employees from discrimination because of disability, and from retaliation for asserting rights under the act. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Direct Optical, Inc., 2:13-cv-14926) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In the consent decree settling the suit, the company agreed to pay $53,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. In addition, Direct Optical agreed to a permanent anti-discrimination injunction; employee training; ADA policy changes; notice posting; and reporting to the EEOC for three years. The injunction, training, policy revisions and EEOC monitoring constitute targeted equitable relief that aims to prevent similar violations in the future. As detailed in its Strategic Enforcement Plan for Fiscal Years 2012-2016, the EEOC has made obtaining targeted, equitable relief one of its top priorities.
"This is a favorable resolution for everyone," explained EEOC Trial Attorney Lauren Gibbs Burstein. "We appreciate that Direct Optical worked with us to resolve this case before we had to engage in lengthy discovery and litigation proceedings."
Eliminating policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC's investigative or enforcement efforts, is one of the six national priorities identified by the agency's Strategic Enforcement Plan.
The Indianapolis District Office oversees Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and parts of Ohio. The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.