Return to Work Policy Costs American Airlines $9.8M

American Airlines and Envoy Air Settle EEOC Disability Suit about Return to Work Policyamerican airlines eeoc return to work policy

American Airlines’ and Enoy Air’s return to work policy has resulted in a $9.8 million settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the agency responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee, the airline’s policy violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it meant that employees were not allowed to return to work until they had no disability-related restrictions on their job duties. In short, the EEOC challenged the airline’s policy of requiring workers to be at “100 percent” in order to return to work. 

Allegations of Disability Discrimination

Employees of American Airlines and its largest regional affiliate, Envoy Air filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC alleging violations of the ADA. The employees filing complaints had disabilities such as back and knee injuries, cancer, lupus and asthma. The complaints suggested the employer refused to provide accommodations such as intermittent leave or a stool behind the ticket counter for a worker with a standing restriction, according to the EEOC.  The workers ultimately alleged that the airlines had a “100 percent” return to work policy that required employees to be able to work without any restrictions.

After investigating, the EEOC filed suit asserting that since at least Jan. 1, 2009, American Airlines engaged in a practice of violating the statute by refusing to accommodate employees with disabilities, terminating employees with disabilities and failing to rehire employees. The policy required that employees who are no longer able to do their job without reasonable accommodation find other jobs, apply for other jobs or compete for other American Airlines jobs. The policy did not require consideration of job reassignment as a reasonable accommodation.  

According to the EEOC’s complaint, American 1) did not provide intermittent leave as an accommodation, 2) refused to provide a stool behind the ticket counter to accommodate an employee with a standing restriction, 3) terminated several of the charging parties or placed them on unpaid leave, and 4) told other disabled employees they could not return to work until they had no restrictions related to their injuries and/or disabilities.

American Enters a Consent Decree

American Airlines denied all of the allegations and maintained that they provide equal employment opportunities for all workers. Even with this stance, American entered a consent decree to settle the charges. The consent decree contains the following provisions:

  1.  The EEOC will hold an unsecured claim in American Airlines’ Fourth Amended Joint Chapter 11 Plan in the amount of $9.8 million. The ultimate dollar value of the settlement will depend upon the trading price of the airline’s stock, the parties acknowledged, with the decree fully enforceable no matter the trading price;
  2. American took responsibility for administration costs up to $150,000;
  3. American and Envoy will conduct additional ADA training for all employees, with extra time allotted for human resources workers and ADA coordinators, and a newly designated position will have responsibility for overseeing American’s compliance with the statute and the consent decree;
  4. American and Envoy will refrain from taking part in any employment practices that discriminate or retaliate on the basis of disability and will engage in the interactive process with employees who request a reasonable accommodation;
  5. The airlines will end the challenged return to work policy accommodation and remove references to the litigation from the charging parties’ personnel files; and 
  6. American will provide equitable relief to the complainants.

EEOC Deputy General Counsel James L. Lee said, “We are pleased the parties were able to resolve this important case without resorting to prolonged and expensive litigation, and we are proud of the Commission’s long record of protecting people with disabilities from workplace discrimination.”

Click here to read the entire consent decree filed on November 3, 2017 in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. American Airlines, Inc.

California Employment Lawyers

Given the outcome of this investigation, employers should take heed of the EEOC’s position regarding 100% return to work policies. Subsequently, employers should be extremely cautious about requiring employees to return to work without restrictions when returning from medical leaves of absence. Should you have questions about the ADA, or employees having the ability to return to work with or without restrictions, don’t hesitate to contact the experienced California employment lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley. To discuss these laws, or a potential claim on your behalf, feel free to call us toll-free at (888) 500-8469 or contact Kingsley & Kingsley via email.

Kingsley & Kingsley

16133 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 1200
Encino, California 91436
Phone: 888-500-8469
Local: 818-990-8300 (Los Angeles Co.)

 

ups disability discrimination

UPS Settles EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit for $2 Million

ups disability discriminationOn August 8, 2017, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a press release announcing the settlement of a lawsuit against United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS). The suit alleged disability discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and was settled for $2 million dollars. The EEOC alleged that UPS maintained an “inflexible leave policy” by which disabled employees were automatically discharged if they were unable to return to work after exhausting the maximum 12 months of leave provided by the policy. Thus, according to the EEOC, this UPS policy essentially shut down the interactive process required by the ADA to determine whether additional reasonable accommodations were available to such persons.

Background

The EEOC suit against UPS started when the company discharged employee Trudi Momsen, after she requested leave beyond the maximum 12-month limit. Initially, Ms. Momsen took a 12-month leave of absence from work due to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. She then returned to work at the conclusion of that 12-month leave, but shortly after requested an additional two weeks of leave for medical reasons. Eventually, UPS terminated her for exceeding the 12-month leave policy.

EEOC Determination

The EEOC’s investigation concluded that UPS’ 12-month leave policy and its application to employees such as Ms. Momsen violated the reasonable accommodation and other provisions of the ADA. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Case No. 09-cv-5291) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The suit involved a class of 88 current and former UPS employees whom the EEOC alleged were victims of UPS’ employment practices.  Continue reading

Ninth Circuit Finds For Plaintiff in Disability / ERISA Case

Employee Retirement Income Security Act – ERISA

On November 4, 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in Avery Armani v. Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. The Ninth Circuit vacated in part the district court’s judgment in favor of the defendant in part in plaintiff’s action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act or ERISA, challenging a denial of benefits under a long term disability insurance policy.

Background  erisa disability

Avery Armani was a full-time controller for the Renaissance Insurance Agency from November 3, 2008 to May 18, 2011. In January 2011, Armani injured his back while lifting a heavy backup power supply. He was diagnosed with a lumbar sprain, muscle spasms, and sciatica. His treating chiropractor instructed him not to sit continuously without the ability to change positions.

As a Renaissance employee, Armani was insured under a group long-term disability policy issued by Northwestern Mutual. Under the plan, participants were entitled to disability benefits for the first 24 months if they were unable to perform “with reasonable continuity the material duties of [their] own occupation.” After benefits had been paid for 24 months, participants needed to establish that they were “unable to perform with reasonable continuity the material duties of any gainful occupation for which [they were] reasonably fitted by education, training, and experience.”

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Apria Healthcare Group to Pay $100,000 To Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit

Disability Discrimination

Apria Healthcare was charged by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for allegedly laying off a warehouse clerk after she notified them of medical restrictions.  According to the EEOC, the company will reportedly pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit for disability discrimination.

Background  termination and disability discrimination

Apria Healthcare Inc. is a home medical provider that offers medical equipment and services in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As described in the EEOC’s, Apria violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by firing Hilda Padilla approximately one week after she returned from medical leave to remove a 23-pound tumor. Although the company alleged the termination was due to a reduction-in-force, Padilla was not given notice of the impending layoff, while another warehouse clerk’s position was not considered for elimination. The company initiated its decision to lay off Padilla only two days after she provided notice of her medical restrictions. Padilla was then left without medical insurance or the ability to receive follow-up medical care after her surgery.

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Ninth Circuit Rules in Disability Discrimination Case

Disability Discrimination Case & Employee with Cerebral Palsy

In Schwartz v. Clark County, a Nevada district court granted summary judgment for the employer in an age and disability discrimination case. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed because events prior to the employee’s discharge suggested an improper motive.disability discrimination

Background

The plaintiff in this case, Mark Schwartz, worked as a senior management analyst in the Business License Department of Clark County, Nevada.  He worked for the Department for 18 years and had a record of exemplary performance evaluations.  Schwartz, who had cerebral palsy and used a motorized scooter to get around, was managed by Jacqueline Holloway, who allegedly interacted less with Schwartz than any other employee in his job classification.

In 2008, following a Clark County’s Human Resources (HR) Department review of analyst job classifications, Schwartz was not recommended for a title change, making him the only remaining management analyst. The other five analysts either received or were offered a title change. They had no disabilities and each were younger than Schwartz.

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California employment legislation

Pending California Employment Legislation

California Employment Legislation

The California Legislature adjourned on August 31st, having sent many employee wage and leave bills to Governor Jerry Brown, who has until September 30th to either veto the bills or sign them into law. Ten notable employment-related bills being considered by the Governor are highlighted below; information related to California employment legislation.

Wage and Hourpending employment laws

SB 1063 amends the Equal Pay Act to prohibit employers from paying employees a wage rate less than the rate paid to employees of a different race or ethnicity for substantially similar work. This bill also 1)  responds to critics of the Fair Pay Act that the pay equity issue is not limited to gender and 2) makes the prior salary prohibition change proposed in AB 1676 if both bills are signed by the Governor and this bill is signed last. If AB 1676 is not signed into law, this bill would not incorporate the prior salary prohibition.

AB 1676 would prohibit employers from considering prior salary to justify any disparity in compensation. This bill is similar to AB 1017 (2015), which Governor Brown vetoed, stating his desire to wait and see whether last year’s Fair Pay Act, SB 358 addressed pay equity issues. Existing law prohibits an employer from paying an employee at wage rates less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex in the same establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.

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