Dried Food Producer Unlawfully Discharged Workers After Denying Extended Leave of Absence for Disability-Related Needs, Federal Agency Charged
FRESNO, Calif. - Sensient Natural Ingredients LLC, a producer of dried onions, garlic and vegetable products, violated federal law when it discriminated against workers due to their disabilities, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to EEOC's lawsuit, several of the company's workers at its Livingston, Calif., facility took extended leaves of absence to undergo disability-related care such as cancer treatments and surgeries. The federal agency asserts that Sensient denied additional time off for disability-related accommodations pursuant to its overly restrictive leave policy. EEOC contends that Sensient further denied several workers' requests to return to work when their conditions improved, despite clearance by their corresponding physicians.
EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California (EEOC v. Sensient Dehydrated Flavors Co., Sensient Natural Ingredients LLC, et al., Case No. 1:15-cv-01431---BAM), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. In its suit, EEOC alleged that the dried food producers discriminated against a class of employees due to their disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). EEOC's suit seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the class members and injunctive relief to prevent future disability discrimination.
"Leave can be a form of accommodation and the failure to grant such an accommodation can be a violation of federal law," said Anna Park, regional attorney for EEOC's Los Angeles District. "We are seeing a rise in employers failing to accommodate individuals under the ADA. At a minimum, employers need to engage with workers to assess how to best accommodate their requests."
Melissa Barrios, director of EEOC's Fresno Local Office, added, "Flexibility is the key when administering a medical leave policy for workers with disabilities. Employers have the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations where there is no undue hardship, including additional leave time to accommodate an employee's need to recover from surgery or other disability-related issues."
One of the six national priorities identified by EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the agency to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA and pregnancy-related limitations, among other possible issues.
EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.