Pilgrim's Pride Fired Disabled Employee Who Needed Leave for Medical Treatment, Federal Agency Charges
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Pilgrim's Pride Corporation (Pilgrim's), a leading provider of retail poultry products, violated federal law when it terminated an employee with a disabling heart condition who took leave for medical treatment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit announced today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Pilgrim's failed to provide reasonable accommodation to employee Anthony Burks by not excusing his disability-related absences. Burke, who worked at Pilgrim's Guntersville, Alabama facility, requested leave to cover absences due to heart surgery. This request was granted. However, when Burks attempted to return to work, the company claimed he had never been placed on leave, then terminated him for violation of Pilgrim's attendance policy.
Pilgrim's 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 presents an undue hardship to the employer. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Pilgrim's Pride Corporation, Civil Action No.4:18-cv-01570) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama after first attempting to reach a voluntary, pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
"Employers often run afoul of the ADA when they penalize employees for taking disability-related leave to receive and recover from medical treatment," said Marsha Rucker, regional attorney for the EEOC Birmingham District Office.
Bradley Anderson, district director of the EEOC Birmingham District Office added, "Employers have an obligation to make exceptions to attendance policies and provide leave as a form of reasonable accommodation unless doing so would result in an undue hardship on the employer."
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, Pilgrim's Pride Corporation has operations in 14 states across the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Mexico. The company has more than 40,000 employees, including approximately 1,500 employees at its Guntersville location.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination. The Birmingham District consists of Alabama, Mississippi (except 17 northern counties) and the Florida Panhandle. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.