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EEOC Sues Spencer Gifts for Disability Discrimination

Novelty Gift Company Failed to Accommodate and Fired Employee Due to Disability, Federal Agency Charges

HICKORY, N.C. - Spencer Gifts, LLC (Spencer), a Delaware corporation that operates novelty gift stores throughout the United States and Canada, violated federal law when it denied extended disability leave to one of its employees and then fired her, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Spencer employed Cindy Sykes as the store manager of its Hickory, N.C. store since early 2009. In 2013, Sykes was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the body's connective tissue, a condition which Spencer was aware of. In December 2016, Sykes informed Spencer she required surgery on her knee and would need to be out for approximately four to six weeks to recover. Spencer refused to provide Sykes with the necessary leave or with any other accommodation that would allow her to keep her job. Spencer fired Sykes on January 14, 2017, when she exhausted her short-term disability benefits.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with a disability unless doing so would be an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Statesville Division (EEOC v. Spencer Gifts, LLC, Civil Action No. 5:18-cv-00155) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.

"The obligation to accommodate an employee with a disability so he or she can keep their job is a fundamental aspect of the ADA," said Kara G. Haden, acting regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District. "Leave can be a reasonable accommodation. An employer cannot ignore its obligations under the ADA simply because an employee has exhausted leave he or she is otherwise entitled to under the employer's policies."

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.