- L-3 Communications has agreed to pay $75,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a Texas engineer who was allegedly forced to resign when he attempted to return from a medical leave for depression.
- The EEOC alleged that the engineer went on leave after experiencing "two depressive episodes at work" in 2014. Although he was cleared to return to work by his doctor and a fitness-for-duty examiner, L-3 gave him a choice of resigning or being fired. The EEOC said the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by forcing the employee, a qualified individual with a disability, to resign in lieu of termination.
- In addition to the monetary settlement, L-3 also agreed to provide ADA training to the employees in the engineer's department.
Employers violate the ADA if they require employees to be 100% healed or able to work, unless the employer can show that providing needed accommodations would cause an undue hardship, the EEOC says in its ADA guidance.
The EEOC also says employers violate the ADA if they claim that an employee with medical restrictions poses a safety risk but cannot show that the individual poses a "direct threat," which means that the employee's disability poses a "significant risk of substantial harm" to self or others. If an employee's disability poses a direct threat, an employer must consider whether reasonable accommodation will eliminate or diminish the direct threat.
Many employers have found themselves on the wrong end of ADA lawsuits since the EEOC's release of new leave-related ADA guidance in 2016. In 2018, a Nevada gaming company paid out $3.5 million to settle a lawsuit challenging its "100%-healed" policy. The EEOC said the policy didn't account for the ADA's interactive process or its reasonable accommodation requirement.
Coca-Cola agreed to pay $2.25 million last year to settle claims brought by nine employees who say that the beverage giant failed to properly accommodate them when returning to work from disability-related absences. And United Airlines, Inc. was sued last month over its alleged 100%-healed return-to-work policy requiring employees to return to work without restrictions.
Compliance training for managers and supervisors plays an important role in preventing workplace situations that land employers in court. It's also important to ensure that training is up-to-date and reflects the current state of the law, according to experts.