Hotel Owner/Operators Fired Female Employee With Breast Cancer a Week Before Surgery, Federal Agency Charged
WASHINGTON - The B.F. Saul group of real estate companies will pay $210,000 and furnish significant equitable relief to resolve a federal disability discrimination lawsuit involving the discharge of a female employee with breast cancer, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today.
B.F. Saul Company, B.F. Saul Hospitality Group, and B.F. Saul Property Company own and operate business-class hotels under franchise agreements with hospitality organizations such as Marriott International, Intercontinental Hotel Group, Hilton and Best Western.
According to the EEOC's suit, in May 2015, Naila Sikandar began working as an area sales manager for two Marriott hotels in the Dulles region, owned and operated by B.F. Saul. In December 2015, Sikandar's supervisors and the Hospitality Group vice president of human resources learned that Sikandar had been diagnosed with breast cancer. In February 2016, Sikandar told B.F. Saul she was scheduled to undergo surgery for her breast cancer on March 8, and her physician identified accommodations she may need after the surgery. On March 1, just one week before Sikandar's scheduled surgery, B.F. Saul fired her. The vice president of human resources told Sikandar it would take too long for her to get better, even though it was too early to predict the outcome of the surgery and subsequent cancer treatment. According to the suit, management escorted Sikandar out of the building and told her not to return.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities, including the failure to provide reasonable accommodations to enable an individual to perform her job and the denial of employment opportunities based on the need to make reasonable accommodations. EEOC guidance concerning application of the ADA to persons with cancer acknowledges that although many types of cancer can be successfully treated, and often cured, the treatment and severity of side effects often are unpredictable and do not permit exact timetables. The guidance emphasizes that an employer may not automatically deny a request for leave from someone with cancer where the employee cannot specify an exact date of return; granting leave to an employee who is unable to provide a fixed date of return may be a reasonable accommodation.
The EEOC filed suit against B.F. Saul (EEOC v. B.F. Saul Company, B.F. Saul Hospitality Group, and B.F. Saul Property Company, Civil Action No. 8:17-cv-2879-RWT) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In late January 2018, Sikandar passed away following her hard-fought battle with breast cancer. She is survived by her husband, her two young children, and a large extended family.
In addition to requiring payment of $210,000 in monetary relief to Sikandar's estate, the two-and-a-half-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit enjoins B.F. Saul from violating the ADA. The decree covers 20 hotels owned or operated by B.F. Saul, as well as other facilities. The organization must disseminate to all employees policies prohibiting disability discrimination and must provide training to all management, supervisory, and human resources personnel on discrimination made unlawful by the ADA, with special emphasis on reasonable accommodation. The decree requires B.F. Saul to periodically provide information to EEOC about any employee requests for accommodation and Defendants' responses and to report to EEOC on how the organization handles any internal complaint of alleged disability discrimination. B.F. Saul also must post a notice about the settlement at all hotels and other facilities covered by the decree.
"Unfortunately, cancer behaves in unpredictable ways," said Washington Field Office Acting Director Mindy Weinstein. "This settlement should remind employers they cannot make hasty decisions simply because an employee facing cancer surgery can't predict how it will affect her."
EEOC Philadelphia District Office Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "Employees with cancer should not be denied employment opportunities because of employer misperceptions about their ability to work during and after cancer treatment. We are pleased that this settlement provides compensation to Ms. Sikandar's estate for the harm she suffered and is designed to protect employees from similar discrimination."
The Washington Field Office has jurisdiction over the District of Columbia and the Virginia counties of Arlington, Clarke, Fairfax, Fauquier, Frederick, Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford and Warren; and the independent Virginia cities of Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church, Manassas, Manassas Park and Winchester.
The EEOC's guidance on application of the ADA to persons with cancer can be found at https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/cancer.cfm.
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