Predecessor Hudson City Savings Bank Denied Disability Accommodations to Employees, Federal Agency Charged
NEW YORK - Wilmington Trust Corporation, a Delaware corporation and wholly owned subsidiary of M&T Bank Corporation, which is based in Buffalo, N.Y., has agreed to pay $700,000 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 lawsuit concerned alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by Hudson City Savings Bank (HCSB), which merged into Wilmington Trust in 2015.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, HCSB had a long-standing inflexible policy and practice of placing employees with impairments or disabilities on involuntary leave unless or until it received their medical provider's clearance to return to work with no restrictions. This practice resulted in denying qualified individuals with disabilities reasonable accommodations, as well as placing qualified individuals with disabilities on involuntary leave and/or discharging them because of disability. HCSB's conduct affected employees in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. One such employee was a Harrison, N.Y., teller who was prescribed a cam walker boot to treat Achilles tendonitis and bone spurs. Instead of simply allowing her to wear the walker boot, which would not have affected the essential functions of her job, HCSB placed her on involuntary leave and then fired her.
The ADA protects employees from disability discrimination, including the failure to provide reasonable workplace accommodations to qualified individuals who have a disability, have a record of disability, or are regarded as disabled. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (EEOC v. Wilmington Trust Corporation, Civil Action No. 17-cv-05077), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
On Dec. 19, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth M. Karas entered a consent decree resolving the case. In addition to a $700,000 award for lost wages and other damages, the decree includes a two-year injunction against policies or practices at Wilmington Trust that would require employees to work with "no restrictions" or otherwise deny employees an interactive process to determine reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. In addition, Wilmington Trust will explicitly advise all former HCSB employees currently employed by Wilmington Trust, known as legacy employees, that HCSB's long-standing workplace accommodations and disability leave policy is no longer in effect. To further ensure that these legacy HCSB employees are aware of the change in policies, Wilmington Trust will also conduct trainings on its disability discrimination policy, the ADA, the ADA's requirement of reasonable accommodation, and other statutes enforced by the EEOC.
"HCSB's policy was in place since at least 2002 and, knowing of the 'no restrictions' requirement, some employees did not even attempt to request necessary accommodations of their disabilities," said EEOC Regional Attorney Jeffrey Burstein. "Wilmington Trust's actions required by the consent decree will ensure that legacy employees will be fully informed that HCSB's long-standing policy no longer applies."
Kevin Berry, the EEOC's New York district director, added, "We hope that this settlement will help inform employers and the public at large that the ADA requires employers to engage in an interactive process and does not allow for such 'no restriction' policies. The consent decree also demonstrates how a successor entity can take action to make sure a predecessor's discriminatory practices do not infect its workplace."
Qualification standards and inflexible leave policies that discriminate against people with disabilities are an emerging and developing issue, which is one of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).
The EEOC's New York District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in New York, northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.