A company which operates Dunkin’ Donuts stores at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) will pay $151,000 and furnish significant equitable relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced yesterday.
DUNKIN DONUTS TELLS DISABLED EMPLOYEE IT’S NO LONGER TIME TO MAKE THE DONUTS — AND PAYS FOR IT
According to her lawsuit, Joan McMahon O’Donnell successfully performed her job duties as a regional manager at the company’s BWI Dunkin’ Donuts locations. After O’Donnell was diagnosed with breast cancer and requested unpaid leave for surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Dunkin’ Donuts refused to provide a reasonable accommodation and instead abruptly discharged her because of her disability, EEOC charged.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC thus filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Dunkin Donuts decided the risk of a trial was too great. In addition agreeing to pay $151,000 in monetary relief to O’Donnell, it entered into a two-year consent decree prohibiting OHM from engaging in any future disability discrimination. OHM will also implement a new attendance policy which includes a provision for requesting reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. The restaurant will provide annual ADA training to all supervisors, managers and human resources employees. OHM will also post a notice about the settlement and will report to EEOC about how it handled any internal complaints of alleged disability discrimination.
THE EOOC IS GROWING MORE ACTIVE AND VOCAL WHEN IT COMES TO ADA VIOLATIONS
“Providing a leave of absence for an employee who needs medical treatment related to a disability is not only the decent thing to do – it is required by federal law unless the employer can show it would pose an undue hardship,” said EEOC Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr.
EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, “This settlement fairly compensates Ms. O’Donnell for her losses. Equally important, the consent decree contains equitable relief, including training and monitoring provisions, designed to ensure that employees with disabilities get reasonable accommodations if needed.”
LESSONS FOR EMPLOYERS
Any time an employer is confronted with an employee that may need medical leave or some other accommodation to help with a serious medical condition, it should evaluate and determine whether it is complying with the ADA (and, for companies 50 employees or more, the Family Medical Leave Act).
Dunkin’ Donuts failed miserably to do this according to the EEOC: “Dunkin’ Donuts refused to provide a reasonable accommodation and instead abruptly discharged her because of her disability.”
The process of deciding on whether a reasonable accommodation is possible and practical is oftentimes difficult. There is often great friction between the employee’s medical needs and the employer’s legitimate business needs.
If a requested accommodation poses an “undue burden” on the employer – if it is not objectively reasonable because it will pose too great a burden on the business — the employer is not required to provide that accommodation. Any time an employer refuses an accommodation on the basis that it would create an undue burden, it should know that its decision may be scrutinized by the EEOC and, ultimately, by a jury.
In sum, when making a decision as to whether to accommodate a sick employee, (1) know that the ADA requires an accommodation unless it would impose an undue burden; (2) maintain openness and flexibility in enforcing leave and other policies; and (3) consult with counsel to ensure that you are making a decision that, if tested, is fully supportable.
Art Bourque has guided businesses and individuals in various ADA and FMLA matters. He has defended and brought claims under both federal statutes. Contact Mr. Bourque with any questions regarding ADA, FMLA, or other employment or human resource issues.