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Press Release 12-04-2012

EEOC Sues Staffmark and Sony for Disability Discrimination

Federal Agency Says Staffing Company and Sony Fired Employee From Temporary Job Because of Her Prosthetic Leg

CHICAGO - The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a disability discrimination lawsuit today against Staffmark Investment LLC and Sony Electronics, Inc., alleging that they terminated a woman with a prosthetic leg because of her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

According to John P. Rowe, the EEOC's district director in Chicago who oversaw the EEOC's administrative investigation, the EEOC found reasonable cause to believe that Staffmark and Sony fired Shanks because of her prosthetic leg. Staffmark, a staffing agency, assigned Dorothy Shanks to work on a temporary job for Sony at Ozzy Hessey Logistics' (OHL) facility located in Romeoville, Ill. Sony uses OHL laborers to package and/or inspect Sony products that are being shipped out. Despite the fact that she was working in the OHL facility, Shanks's supervisors were all Sony employees, who were also located at the OHL facility.

On Shanks's second day of employment on the Sony job, a Staffmark employee told her that she was being removed from her assignment because they did not want anyone bumping into her, and that Staffmark would find her another assignment where she could sit. Staffmark never sent Shanks to work on any other job assignments even though Shanks repeatedly called Staffmark seeking work.

The EEOC filed suit under the ADA after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement with Staffmark and Sony through EEOC's conciliation process. The case, EEOC v. Staffmark Investment LLC and Sony Electronics, Inc, N.D. Ill. No. 12-cv-9628, was filed on Dec. 4, 2012, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. Supervisory Trial Attorney Diane Smason and Trial Attorney Ann Henry will litigate the case on behalf of the EEOC.

"The ADA requires that individuals with disabilities be judged on their ability to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation," said Rowe. "Ms. Shanks performed her job with no difficulty, but was fired because of unjustified fears about her having a prosthetic leg. Firing employees because of baseless fears and stereotypes about their disabilities is illegal, and the EEOC will defend the victims of such unlawful conduct."

"Staffing agencies cannot avoid liability for discrimination by saying they were just following an employer-client's orders, nor can employers avoid liability by saying the victim was 'really employed' by their staffing agency," said John Hendrickson, the EEOC's regional attorney in Chicago. "It's a pretty good bet that a worker with a prosthetic leg is always going to be protected by the ADA, and an equally good bet that flat-out firing the worker for that reason is going to violate the law. This scenario should not be all that difficult for employers to avoid. If they don't, the EEOC will be there to make things right."

According to the company website, Staffmark is one of the top ten commercial staffing companies in the United States, with more than 300 offices in 30 states. Sony Electronics, Inc. is the largest component of Sony Corporation of America, the U.S. holding company for Sony's electronics and entertainment business.

The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, 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.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at