Company Fired Employee With Disability Who Needed Accommodation, Federal Agency Charges
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Allstate Beverage Company, LLC, a Montgomery, Ala., beverage distributor, violated federal law when it fired an employee with a disabling heart condition instead of providing him with reasonable accommodation of his disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit announced today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, the employee, who worked at Allstate's Montgomery facility as a warehouse administrator, was hospitalized as result of an embolism and needed time off to recover. Within weeks of his release from the hospital, he requested to return to work under certain restrictions pertaining to moving heavier objects. Allstate refused his request and countered that he could only return to work with a full medical release. The employee then requested unpaid leave as an accommodation so that he could have additional time to recover from his illness in order to comply with the company's request that he return to work without restriction. Allstate also denied this request and thereafter abruptly concluded the interactive process and terminated the employee.
Allstate's alleged conduct violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities, including granting unpaid leave, unless doing so imposes an undue hardship on the employer. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Allstate Beverage Company, LLC, Civil Action No. 2:19-cv-00657-WC) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, after first attempting to reach a voluntary, pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
"Employers should be warned that to deny requests for accommodation simply because they have already granted leave in keeping with a company policy or the FMLA could subject them to liability under the ADA," said Marsha Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC Birmingham District Office. "Employers cannot simply deny a request for accommodation because of a policy; the ADA requires employers to engage in the interactive process and offer reasonable accommodation."
Bradley Anderson, district director of the EEOC Birmingham District Office. added, "Employers have an obligation to give individualized consideration to reasonable requests for accommodations. Too often, instead of working with an employee with a disability to find an accommodation that works for all parties, employers simply fire employees seeking accommodation instead of meaningfully engaging in the interactive process required by the ADA."
Addressing emerging and developing areas of the law, including inflexible leave policies that discriminate against individuals with disabilities, is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan.
According to company information, Allstate, a subsidiary of Gulf Distributing Holdings, LLC, is a beverage distribution company that employs more than 100 people. Allstate receives merchandise, including marketing materials such as signs and displays, from manufacturers, temporarily stores the merchandise, and then distributes it to retailers.
The Birmingham District consists of Alabama, Mississippi (except 17 northern counties) and the Florida Panhandle.
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