Home Décor Business Fired Warehouse Employee for Taking Unpaid Leave It Forced Her to Use, Federal Agency Charges
LOUIS - Black Forest Décor, LLC violated federal law when it forced a worker with a disability at its Enid, Okla., warehouse to take unpaid leave, despite her ability and willingness to work, and then fired her for exercising the very leave it forced her to take, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the suit, Barbara Berry put Black Forest on notice in February 2018 that she had a medical condition that was likely to require surgery in the coming month, but that her doctor had released her to work until her surgery. In response, Black Forest informed Berry that she was being placed on unpaid leave until her surgery because the company said it was afraid it would be liable if anything happened to Berry while working. Although Berry kept Black Forest updated with details about her surgery, the company didn't contact her again until three weeks later when it sent her a letter stating she was being fired for "excessive absences," the EEOC charged.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma (EEOC v. Black Forest Décor LLC, Civil Case No. 5:19-cv-00894) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and reinstatement or front pay for Berry, as well as injunctive relief, including a court order prohibiting Black Forest from any further discrimination against employees because of their disability.
"The ADA has long prohibited employers from discriminating against workers with disabilities," said Andrea G. Baran, the EEOC's regional attorney in St. Louis. "Many workers are entitled to the ADA's protections even when they are fully able to work. Employers cannot rely on their own assumptions and biases when deciding how to treat employees in these situations."
Jack Vasquez, Jr., director of the EEOC's St. Louis District Office, added, "Firing a person who has a disability is not only unlawful, it's bad business. We encourage workers who encounter discrimination because of disability to report that information to the EEOC."
The EEOC's St. Louis District Office oversees Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and a portion of southern Illinois.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.