Promotional Marketing Company Refused to Accommodate and Fired Field Representative with Severe Allergies, Federal Agency Charges
BALTIMORE - Cosmic Concepts, Ltd., trading as Media Star Promotions, violated federal law when it refused to provide a reasonable accommodation to a field representative with a disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit announced today. EEOC also charged that the company unlawfully demanded that she waive her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and then fired her based on her disability and refusal to sign the waiver.
Amanda Matherly began working as a field representative at Media Star's Baltimore headquarters. As a field representative, her duties included traveling to outdoor festivals to distribute free product samples and gather customer contact information. Matherly has several allergies, including a severe allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. If she is exposed to peanuts or tree nuts, she will go into anaphylactic shock, and must be immediately injected with medication and hospitalized to prevent death, according to the suit. EEOC says that Matherly requested that Media Star reasonably accommodate her disability by providing vinyl gloves for her to handle a small number of items at company headquarters that may have been exposed to peanuts and to alert hotels and airlines about her allergies when making her travel arrangements.
EEOC charged that Media Star refused to accommodate Matherly's disability and instead improperly asked her to sign a form purporting to waive her rights under the ADA. When she refused, the company terminated her because of her disability and in retaliation for, and in interference of, her exercise of her rights under the ADA, according to the lawsuit.
Such alleged conduct violates the ADA, which prohibits disability discrimination. The ADA requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would cause a significant expense or difficulty to the employer. The ADA also protects individuals from coercion, intimidation, threat, harassment, or interference in their exercise of their own rights or their encouragement of someone else's exercise of rights granted by the ADA. EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Cosmic Concepts, Ltd., t/a Media Star Promotions, Civil Action No.1:15-cv-02975-CCB) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
"Employers simply cannot make employment decisions based on fears or biases about people with disabilities," said EEOC Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. "It would not have been a significant cost or business disruption for Media Star to reasonably accommodate Ms. Matherly, such as providing her with gloves to prevent exposure to allergens."
EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "Employers cannot circumvent their legal obligations by trying to bully workers into waiving their right to request a reasonable accommodation or foregoing their right to file a claim under the ADA as a condition for continued employment. Strong public policy mandates that individuals with a disability have the unfettered right to request a reasonable accommodation and to file a discrimination charge if their rights are denied."
Eliminating policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede EEOC's investigative or enforcement efforts, is one of six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan.
EEOC's Philadelphia District Office has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. Attorneys in EEOC's Philadelphia District Office also prosecute discrimination cases in Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.
EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.