Consulting Company Fired Employee Because of Post-Partum Depression, Federal Agency Charges
BALTIMORE - The Lash Group, a Charlotte, N.C.-based consulting company, refused to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with post-partum depression and instead fired her because of her disability in violation of federal law, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, Meron Debru worked as a reimbursement case advocate at The Lash Group's Rockville, Md., facility when she went on maternity leave. She received short-term disability benefits while on maternity leave and advised the disability benefits carrier that she needed additional unpaid leave due to post-partum depression, the EEOC said. The Lash Group initially fired her, but later extended her short-term disability leave. When Debru was medically released to return to work, however, The Lash Group did not return her to her position as a reimbursement case advocate because it had filled her position.
The company refused to transfer her to vacant positions for which she was qualified as a reasonable accommodation and instead forced her to find and compete for vacant positions within the company. Debru applied for three vacant positions for which she was qualified, but The Lash Group instead terminated her because of her disability, in violation of federal law, the EEOC said.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of disability. The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees with a disability unless the employer can show that doing so would be an undue hardship. The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Southern Division (EEOC v. The Lash Group, Civil Action No. 8:14-cv-03091-PJM), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
"While pregnancy itself is not a disability under the ADA, some women develop pregnancy-related disabilities, such as post-partum depression, and are entitled to reasonable accommodations unless the employer can prove that doing so would be a significant expense or difficulty," said Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., district director of the EEOC's Philadelphia District Office.
EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "It is incumbent on employers to provide reasonable accommodations for women who need them due to pregnancy-related disabilities, such as extending unpaid leave or transferring the employee to a vacant position for which she is qualified. Forcing an employee to try to find a new position within the company on her own does not meet the company's affirmative obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation by transferring her to a vacant job."
One of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan is for the agency to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA and pregnancy-related limitations, among other possible issues.
The Lash Group's headquarters are located in Charlotte, N.C., with additional operational centers in California, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Texas.
The EEOC Philadelphia District Office has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. The legal staff of the EEOC Philadelphia District Office also prosecutes discrimination cases arising from Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.