Employer Refused to Accommodate and Fired Former Health & Wellness Director, Federal Agency Says
DENVER - Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc., a Delaware corporation based in Brentwood, Tenn., violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) in 2012 by failing to provide reasonable accommodations to Bernadine Adams, then the Health & Wellness Director of Brookdale's Heritage Club Mountain View facility in Denver, Colo., the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed September 24. The EEOC also alleged Brookdale further violated the ADA by retaliating against Adams by firing her for requesting a reasonable accommodation for her disability and for filing a charge of discrimination with the agency.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Adams was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in July 2011. She then went on leave in December 2011 and returned to work in January 2012. Three days later, she requested reasonable accommodations: an ergonomic chair, adjusted lighting in her office and a part-time schedule for eight days. The EEOC claims that Brookdale placed Adams back on leave and told Adams she could not return to work until she was able to work full-time with no restrictions or accommodations. The EEOC alleges that Brookdale also told Adams the requested accommodations were unreasonable and were causing an undue hardship. According to the EEOC, Brookdale did not engage in the interactive process or proposed any alternative accommodations. Thereafter, Adams filed a charge of discrimination against Brookdale.
The EEOC also claims that seven days after Adams filed her EEOC charge, Brookdale fired her with a letter telling her that she was being terminated "because you have failed to engage in the interactive process within reasonable terms."
Such alleged conduct violates the ADA, which prohibits discrimination and retaliation against employees and applicants with disabilities. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The lawsuit, EEOC v. Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc., Civil Action No. 14-cv-02643-WYD-MEH, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, seeks Adams' reinstatement, back pay and benefits with pre-judgment interest, and monetary damages. The EEOC also seeks injunctive relief on behalf of the public interest, including enjoining Brookdale from failing and/or refusing to engage in the interactive process or provide reasonable accommodations of disabilities, enjoining acts of retaliation, and requiring Brookdale to institute policies, programs, and practices to stop future violations of the ADA.
"Under the ADA, qualified individuals with disabilities are entitled to the same employment opportunities as anyone else," said Mary Jo O'Neill, Regional Attorney for the EEOC's Phoenix District Office, whose jurisdiction includes the EEOC's Denver Field Office. "Reasonable accommodations and the interactive process are essential and necessary parts of the process assuring people with disabilities those same opportunities."
EEOC Denver Field Office Director John Lowrie said, "The EEOC stands ready to assist disabled employees and applicants whenever they believe their rights have been violated or they suffer retaliation for exercising their rights. Employers are responsible for complying with the employment practices lawfully required by the ADA."
According to its website, Brookdale operates more than 640 communities in 36 states offering independent living, assisted living, memory care, therapy and home health services, hospice and skilled nursing care to over 67,000 residents.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The Phoenix District Office covers Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and part of New Mexico. Further information is available on the EEOC's website at www.eeoc.gov