Salinas Farmworker with Epilepsy Denied Opportunity to Work, EEOC Charged
SALINAS, Calif. — Dole Fresh Vegetable, Inc. violated federal law by unreasonably suspending a long-time employee from work due to his epilepsy, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit announced today.
The EEOC’s investigation showed that for eight years, Dole was able to accommodate a worker with epilepsy employed as a broccoli packer at its Salinas facility. When he experienced a seizure at work, the company simply allowed him to take a break and he would return to work when he had recovered. The number of seizures varied, but had decreased in frequency over the years. However, after an epileptic seizure in 2010, the employee was sent home and not permitted to return to work for two weeks, despite past policy and several notes from his doctor clearing him to return to work, says the federal agency.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits treating workers unfavorably because they have a disability and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to applicants and employees with disabilities. After first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process, the EEOC filed the lawsuit EEOC v. Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. (Civil Action No. CV11-4827 CRB), in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose. The suit seeks monetary damages as well as measures to prevent future discrimination by the employer.
EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said, “Based on the doctor’s notes and its own past practice, Dole should have returned this employee to work. Instead, the company allowed speculation and fears over his disability to prevent a long-time employee from returning to his job. This is exactly the type of discrimination the ADA was meant to address and stop.”
“According to the Center for Disease Control, epilepsy affects two million Americans. Dole’s misconceptions about epilepsy prevented this worker from returning to work and he was forced to take unpaid medical leave,” said EEOC San Francisco District Office Director Michael Baldonado. “For many people, an unplanned loss of two weeks of pay is significant and the uncertainty of being able to return to work in this economy very stressful.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.