Consulting Company Fired Employee Because of Post-Partum Depression, Federal Agency Charged
BALTIMORE - The Lash Group, a Charlotte, N.C.-based consulting company, will pay $75,000 and provide significant equitable relief to settle a federal disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency 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 Lash Group initially fired her, but later extended her short-term disability leave.
After she was medically released to return to work, however, The Lash Group did not return Debru to her position because her position was filled. The Lash Group failed to provide the reasonable accommodation of transferring Debru to a vacant position for which she was qualified and instead fired her because of her disability in violation of federal law, the EEOC charged.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of disability. The ADA also 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.
In addition to providing $75,000 in monetary relief to Debru, the two-year consent decree resolving this lawsuit provides substantial equitable relief, including enjoining The Lash Group from failing to provide reasonable accommodations. The Lash Group will revise its family and medical leave and short-term disability benefits policies and procedures to address reasonable accommodations, including notifying employees that they may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation, including unpaid leave, under the ADA and how to request such an accommodation. The decree requires The Lash Group to provide training on the ADA and reasonable accommodations to human resources personnel, leave coordinators and managers. The Lash Group will also report to the EEOC on how it handles any future reasonable accommodation requests and post a notice regarding the resolution of this lawsuit.
"An employee with post-partum depression may need additional leave or other reasonable accommodations under the ADA," said EEOC's Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. "This case should remind all employers to be proactive and review their policies and procedures, including short-term disability leave policies, to ensure that employees who need a reasonable accommodation will receive what they are entitled to under federal law."
EEOC Philadelphia Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "We are pleased that The Lash Group worked with us cooperatively to reach a meaningful and expeditious settlement of this case. The training requirements and comprehensive policy changes are designed to ensure that employees with disabilities have equal employment opportunities, including reasonable accommodations if needed."
One of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan is addressing emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA and pregnancy-related limitations, among other possible issues.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.
The Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. The legal staff of the Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC also prosecutes discrimination cases arising from Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.