Company Now Known as RockTenn CP, LLC Fired Employee Because of His Disability, Federal Agency Charges
FLORENCE, S.C. - RockTenn CP, LLC formerly known as Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation, discriminated against an employee with a disability at Smurfit-Stone's Latta, S.C., facility and then unlawfully fired him, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed yesterday. RockTenn CP, LLC acquired Smurfit-Stone in May 2011.
According to the EEOC's complaint, Darren Fraley was hired by Smurfit-Stone as a third shift production supervisor on August 25, 2008. In February 2009, Fraley was hospitalized with a severe back condition. On February 17, 2009, Fraley informed Smurfit-Stone's senior human resources clerk that he had been hospitalized, was under a doctor's care and would require back surgery. Because of his short tenure at the company, Fraley was not eligible for disability leave. However, Fraley was erroneously placed on short term disability, effective February 2009. From February 2009 through July 2009, Fraley kept the HR clerk informed about his prognosis, condition, and return-to-work status.
The EEOC further alleged that on July 29, 2009, the HR clerk contacted Fraley and informed him that he had been mistakenly placed on short term disability for which he was ineligible and that he was being terminated effective August 1, 2009. Fraley objected to the termination and told the HR clerk that he was scheduled to be released to return to work the following week. On Aug. 3, 2009, Fraley's doctor released him to return to work without restrictions, effective Aug. 4, 2009. Smurfit-Stone refused to allow Fraley leave as a reasonable accommodation for his disability for the period from around July 29, 2009 until he was released to return to work around Aug. 4, 2009. Rather, the company discharged Fraley because he could not return to work because of his disability.
The alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees and applicants from discrimination based on their disabilities. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Florence Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. RockTenn CP, LLC f/k/a Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief.
"Employers have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office which filed this lawsuit. "A company cannot simply fire an employee because he or she needs to take medical leave related to a disability. Rather, the company must evaluate whether allowing the employee to take leave would be an undue hardship on the company's operations. The EEOC's position in this case is that having put Fraley on leave, even if mistakenly, without hardship for almost six months, the company could have continued the leave for another week without experiencing undue hardship," Barnes continued.
RockTenn CP, LLC completed acquisition of Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation on May 27, 2011. According to the company's website, RockTenn CP, LLC is one of North America's leading producers of corrugated and consumer packaging and recycling solutions. Based in Norcross, Georgia, the company employs approximately 26,000 people and operates more than 240 facilities in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and China.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency's web site at www.eeoc.gov.