Company Unlawfully Fired Employee Because of Epilepsy, Agency Charged
MILWAUKEE – U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen L. Crocker of the federal district court in Madison yesterday entered a consent decree resolving a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Mr. B’s of Abbotsford, Inc., formerly known as Abbotsford Egg Products. The EEOC had charged that the Abbotsford, Wis., former egg processing company unlawfully fired a production employee, Nicki Heberle, because of her epilepsy, despite Heberle’s ability to perform the essential functions of her job.
Mr. B’s of Abbotsford, Inc. sold the egg processing business to a new operator in 2007, but its actions alleged in the EEOC’s suit took place before the sale. The decree provides that Mr. B’s will pay Heberle $50,000; includes a prohibition against future disability discrimination or retaliation; and requires that Mr. B’s provide anti-discrimination training to its employees, now and in the future.
In its lawsuit, filed on July 15, 2009, the EEOC charged that Mr. B’s violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) when it terminated Heberle in January 2007 because of her epilepsy. Heberle had worked as a production employee at Mr. B’s for over a month without incident, but Mr. B’s terminated her after she had a seizure following her first time operating a rapidly spinning egg-breaking machine. EEOC alleged that in spite of her epilepsy, Heberle could do the essential functions of a production employee. (EEOC v. Mr. B’s of Abbotsford, Inc., W.D. Wis. No. 09-CV-444).
The ADA prohibits job discrimination against an individual who is regarded as having a disability if the individual is able to perform the essential functions of the job.
John Rowe, director of the EEOC’s Chicago District Office, said, “The ADA makes it necessary for employers to carefully assess an individual’s ability to perform the essential functions of the job, and does not allow myths, fears, or stereotypes about a medical condition to be the basis for employment decisions.”
EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John Hendrickson said, “The EEOC will continue to seek relief for those who are deemed by the employer to be unfit for a job based on their impairment, but are in fact able to perform the essential functions of the job.”
EEOC Associate Regional Attorney Jean Kamp, who supervised the litigation, said, “This case was settled promptly by Mr. B’s, which made it clear it wanted to resolve the matter without protracted litigation. We commend its willingness to do so, and we are very pleased for Ms. Heberle and others with epilepsy who can take heart from this case.”
The case was litigated by Trial Attorney Brian Tyndall of EEOC’s Milwaukee Area Office.
The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.