Retailer Fired Employee Because of Cancer, Federal Agency Charged
BALTIMORE - The world's largest home improvement specialty retailer will pay $100,000 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 Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc. failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for a cashier with cancer at its Towson, Md., store and then fired her because of her condition.
The EEOC said that Judy Henderson, a cashier who consistently received favorable performance evaluations during her 13-year tenure with Home Depot, requested unpaid leave for surgery to remove a tumor. EEOC contended that Home Depot initially accommodated her disability by granting her unpaid leave, but then advised Henderson that she would be terminated if she did not advise the company of her status. EEOC charged that even though Henderson promptly sent medical documentation confirming when she would be medically released to return to work in October 2010, the retailer did not respond to her medical notes and instead fired her. Home Depot told Henderson she was being let go due to a lack of work, but EEOC claimed that was but a subterfuge for disability discrimination. Before, when there had been a seasonal lack of work, Henderson had been temporarily laid off as opposed to permanently terminated. Further, the company hired two cashiers at the Towson store after Henderson submitted medical documentation that she would soon be able to return to work. Additional cashiers were hired at nearby locations.
It is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to fire someone on the basis of a disability. The ADA also requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation unless the employer can show it would be an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Southern Division, Civil Action No. 12-cv-01952, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to the monetary relief to Henderson, the consent decree settling the suit enjoins the home improvement retailer from further denying reasonable accommodations or otherwise discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Home Depot must provide anti-discrimination training, with an emphasis on unpaid leave as a medical accommodation, to all store managers, assistant store managers and human resources staff in the district covering the Towson store and post a notice regarding the resolution of the lawsuit.
"Employers must give unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation unless they can prove it would be a significant cost or disruption to its business," said EEOC Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. "It can be difficult for a major nationwide retailer the size of Home Depot to show how a few extra weeks of unpaid leave would be an undue hardship."
EEOC regional attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "It flies in the face of common sense and common decency to refuse to work with an employee who is battling cancer. We appreciate Home Depot's willingness to work with us to resolve this lawsuit quickly. In addition to the monetary relief for Ms. Henderson, the injunctive relief and training requirements will benefit all people with disabilities in that district."
According to its website, https://corporate.homedepot.com, The Home Depot, Inc. is the world's largest home improvement specialty retailer with fiscal 2011 retail sales of $70.4 billion and earnings of $3.9 billion. The Home Depot has more than 2,200 retail stores in the United States (including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and the territory of Guam), Canada, Mexico and China.
The Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.