Federal Agency Says Company Unlawfully Fired Employees Who Needed Medical Leave
CHICAGO – Beverage Solutions, Inc., a Chicago-area beverage distribution company, violated federal law by refusing to reasonably accommodate the needs of one of its employees who needed medical leave, and firing her, because of her disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
According to the EEOC, Pamela Stokes, who worked as a customer service representative for Beverage Solutions, suffered from severely blocked arteries that limited her ability to walk and to breathe. An administrative investigation conducted by the EEOC before filing suit found that Beverage Solutions’ leave policy provides that employees can take leave only between February 15 and May 15, or between July 15 and October 15, which are periods of the year during which Beverage Solutions claims its business is slower. Stokes’s heart condition was life-threatening and required that she undergo open heart surgery, the EEOC said. When she requested six to eight weeks of leave in September 2006 to have surgery, the company denied her request and told her that by taking time off, she was effectively resigning. Stokes underwent open heart surgery and was released to return to work on November 20, 2006. She contacted Beverage Solutions about returning to work, but the company did not respond to her request to be rehired.
Such alleged conduct violates Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities unless it would cause an undue hardship to the employer. The EEOC is also seeking relief on behalf of a class of Beverage Solutions employees with disabilities whom the company failed to accommodate by inflexibly applying its leave policy.
Beverage Solutions, located in Lake Forest, Ill., operates home delivery membership clubs such as Beer Across America, Coffee Quest, and International Wine Club.
“Providing Ms. Stokes with the short-term leave she requested would not, according to our investigation, have caused Beverage Solutions any undue hardship,” explained John Rowe, the EEOC’s district director in Chicago, who supervised that investigation. “The company didn’t replace Stokes while she was recovering from surgery, and there’s no reason to suppose the company couldn’t have accommodated her leave request.”
John Hendrickson, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Chicago, added, “The courts and the EEOC agree that the ADA clearly does not require totally unlimited leave policies—never having to show up for work is not a reasonable accommodation. What the statute does require is that employers have leave policies which are at least flexible enough to permit them to make a reasonable accommodation when it is warranted, when it would not cause undue hardship and when it would get the employee back to work.”
The case, captioned EEOC v. Beverage Solutions, Inc., was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, on June 25, 2009, after the EEOC first attempted to voluntarily conciliate the matter. It has been designated Civil Action No. 09 C 3829 and assigned to U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah. The government’s litigation effort will be led by EEOC Trial Attorney Ann Henry and Supervisory Trial Attorney Diane Smason.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.
The EEOC Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
This page was last modified on June 25, 2009.
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