SEATTLE — Payday lending chain Cottonwood Financial, Ltd., which does business as The Cash Store, refused to accommodate a manager with bipolar disorder at its store in Walla Walla, Wash., and unlawfully fired him due to his disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
The EEOC’s suit (EEOC v. Cottonwood Financial, Ltd., CV-09-5073-EFS) charged that the company refused to accommodate store manager Sean Reilly’s need for sufficient time off to adjust to new medication prescribed by his doctor. Hired as an assistant manager in June 2006, Reilly was promoted to store manager in October and received an award for the success of his store in November 2006. However, in late January 2007, Reilly was prescribed new medication, and his family made requests on his behalf to the district manager, explaining Reilly’s need for enough leave to recover. Senior management at Cottonwood Financial, however, ignored the requests and later fired Reilly, refusing to tell him why he had been terminated.
Reilly said, “After my diagnosis, I really challenged myself to beat the odds and do well at work. I was proud of my promotion and of my performance. It was crushing to me to be fired for no reason other than needing a few days off to adjust to new medication.”
Disability discrimination violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to engage in an interactive process with employees in good faith, exploring what accommodations for a disability are possible. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The EEOC seeks monetary damages on behalf of Reilly, training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the work site and other injunctive relief.
EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo noted, “Sean Reilly proved himself a skilled and diligent employee. That’s why he was promoted to store manager only four months after being hired. When his disability required him to take several days off from work, his employer refused to give him enough time or even talk to him about possible accommodations. The law requires more. When an employee faces limitations because of a disability, employers have a duty to explore reasonable accommodations. Cottonwood didn’t make an effort, and that’s why the EEOC filed suit in this case.”
San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado added, “Employees with disabilities can remain productive members of the work force, especially if employers fully engage with their duty under the ADA to work interactively with these employees to find a solution.”
According to its web site, www.cashstore.com, Cottonwood Financial owns and operates payday lending stores with over 500 employees in Washington, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin. Its headquarters are in Irving, Texas.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.