Garment Worker Fired While on Medical Leave to Treat Cancer, Federal Agency Charges
LOS ANGELES — American Apparel, Inc., a clothing manufacturer which operates what it says is the largest garment factory in the nation, violated federal law when it terminated a disabled garment worker while he was on medical leave for cancer treatment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed last week.
According to the EEOC’s suit, the garment worker requested medical leave in order to undergo chemotherapy treatment for cancer. His request for medical leave was approved and the garment worker supplied documentation regarding the status of his treatment, contends the EEOC. Although the garment worker returned to work when he completed the treatment, he was subsequently informed that the company no longer had a position for him, resulting in immediate termination. The EEOC argues that by terminating him without exploring options for accommodation, American Apparel effectively denied the garment worker’s request for reasonable accommodation and fired him due to his disability, a direct violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
The EEOC filed its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California (EEOC v. American Apparel, Inc., Case No. CV 10-7280-FMO), after efforts to reach a pre-litigation settlement failed. The EEOC’s suit seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the garment worker, and injunctive relief to prevent future disability discrimination.
“Workers with disabilities cannot be cast off at the first sign of a disability-related issue,” said Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office. “Employees have the right to seek and obtain a reasonable accommodation to modify their job, environment or schedule in order to continue working despite disability-related challenges.”
Olophius Perry, district director for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, added, “When an employee requests time off or any other type of accommodation related to one’s disability, it is the employer’s legal obligation to consider it. Employers must engage in the interactive process with the employee to assess whether there is a way to accommodate the request or agree to an alternative solution. Often, the cost of accommodation is minimal.”
Aside from American Apparel’s manufacturing venture, the Los Angeles-based company is also a leading clothing distributor and retailer. According to its website, the company employs approximately 10,000 people globally (about 5,000 of which are in Los Angeles) and operates more than 285 retail stores in 20 countries.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.