Restaurant Fired Class of Workers With Disabilities Over Medical Leave Cap, Federal Agency Charged
BALTIMORE – Nationwide restaurant chain Denny’s, Inc. will pay $1.3 million and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
In its suit (Case No. WDQ-06-02527), filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, the EEOC charged that Denny’s refused to provide one of its restaurant managers in Baltimore with legally required reasonable accommodations for her disability, a leg amputation. The company prohibited her from working in its restaurants because of her disability, despite her desire to return to work, the EEOC said, and then fired her because of her disability.
The agency further charged that Denny’s maintained a maximum medical leave policy that automatically denied workers any additional medical leave beyond a pre-determined limit, even when additional leave was required by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) as a reasonable accommodation, which resulted in the unlawful termination of a class of workers.
In addition to a monetary payment to the fired restaurant manager, the consent decree settling the suit will also provide monetary relief to 33 additional workers who EEOC charged were denied reasonable accommodations and unlawfully terminated. The consent decree settling the suit also requires all Denny’s that are corporate-operated to undertake the following measures: reinstatement for certain identified workers; additional medical leave to reasonably accommodate disabled employees; anti-discrimination training and notice posting, with emphasis on the ADA and disability discrimination; a corporate-level oversight and review process for leave decisions; and reporting to the EEOC. The federal court will retain jurisdiction and EEOC will monitor compliance with the decree.
“We believe that by entering into this consent decree, Denny’s is expressing its determination to prevent future disability discrimination,” said Debra M. Lawrence, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Philadelphia office, which has jurisdiction over Maryland. “Denny’s has worked with the EEOC to obtain an outcome that furthers the goal of ensuring employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. We are pleased that Denny’s evaluated its practices regarding medical leave and revised many of those practices even before the parties settled this case.”
“Industry should take note that federal law requires employers to make exceptions to generally applicable policies and work rules — such as limits on the amount of medical leave an employee may take — when necessary to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities, unless providing an exception to a particular individual is an undue hardship,” said Ronald L. Phillips, a supervisory trial attorney in the EEOC’s Baltimore office.
According to company information, Spartanburg, S.C.-based Denny’s is one of America's largest full-service family restaurant chains, with restaurants across the United States and other locations. EEOC’s lawsuit related solely to restaurants owned by Denny’s, Inc.
In fiscal year 2010, private sector workplace discrimination charge filings with the EEOC hit an unprecedented level of 99,922, which included a record-high number of disability charges (25,165) – an increase of 17.3 percent in disability charges over the prior fiscal year.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.