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Brookdale Senior Living Communities Sued by EEOC for Disability Discrimination and Retaliation

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