- Joint employers Victory Automotive Group and Cappo Management XXIX will pay $150,000 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit alleging the employers violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by firing an employee they feared had cancer.
- According to the complaint, the employee — a title clerk at the employers' Sacramento dealership — missed several days of work due to a sudden illness. She then informed her employers that she had been hospitalized and was undergoing testing for cancer. One day before she was to return with a medical release, the businesses terminated her employment. They provided her a letter telling her to "focus on her health" and affirmed that her termination was not performance-related, the EEOC release stated.
- At part of the settlement, the employers will hire a consultant "to facilitate changes to their policies and training practices," EEOC said in its release.
The ADA prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from terminating an employee based on a real or perceived disability, which it defines as a "physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities."
Employers can terminate employees with disabilities under certain conditions, the U.S. Department of Labor has noted — when the termination is unrelated to the disability; when the employee does not meet legitimate requirements for the job, such as performance or production standards, with or without a reasonable accommodation; or if the employee's disability poses a direct threat to the health and safety of the workplace.
In this particular case, the employer's documentation suggesting the employee "focus on her health" and noting that the termination was not performance-related pointed toward disability as the causal factor in her termination.
If an employee discloses a serious health condition, employers should respond with support and empathy, experts commonly recommend. They also may need to review that employee's rights under the ADA and the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Cancer is a potentially shocking but common diagnosis, meaning large employers are likely to encounter it at some point. Advocacy and HR groups have stepped in to provide resources. The Business Group on Health and American Cancer Society co-authored a tip sheet for employers on how to support workers with cancer. And the Society for Human Resource Management also provides guidance for HR pros navigating the experience.
Correction: This article previously referred to Business Group on Health by its former name.