The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



Airline Fired Arthritic Clerk for Walking Too Slowly, Federal Agency Charged

DETROIT -- A Memphis, Tenn., airline operating out of Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport violated federal law by firing a flight operations clerk on the basis of her disability, left knee arthritis, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

According to the EEOC's suit (Case No. 2:09-CV-13300) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan), Pinnacle Airlines, Inc., a formerly wholly owned subsidiary of Northwest Airlines, terminated Vickie Cowie because it believed she walked too slowly. Cowie spent the majority of her time performing administrative tasks requiring her to sit at a desk. She also performed some duties which required her to walk between concourses. A few weeks after she was hired, Cowie developed pain in her left knee and was eventually diagnosed with arthritis. Despite the diagnosis, she was able to continue working despite walking with a limp and using a cane for assistance. Nevertheless, Pinnacle fired her shortly thereafter.

This type of alleged conduct violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of disability. The EEOC filed suit against Pinnacle after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The agency seeks to recover monetary compensation for the Cowie in the form of back pay and compensatory damages for emotional distress, as well as punitive damages.

"Federal law protects people from discrimination on the basis of disability," said EEOC Trial Attorney Trek Carethers. "Companies are not entitled to allow ill-conceived perceptions of disabilities to guide their personnel decisions.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at

This page was last modified on August 26, 2009.

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