Employer settles claim it fired worker with esophagus disease after coughing fit
- Mid South Extrusion Inc. will pay $70,000 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit claiming it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by firing a worker because of his breathing problems (EEOC and Wyant v. Mid South Extrusion, Inc., No. 17-cv-01229 (W.D. La. March 22, 2019)).
- The suit alleged that the Mid South employee, Jeffrey Wyant, experienced breathing problems at work and learned he had esophagus disease and reduced breathing capacity in his lungs. Wyant disclosed this information to an HR manager who, when told Wyant's doctor recommended he go on disability, allegedly emailed Wyant's supervisor and said it "automatically raised a red flag for her." A few weeks later, Wyant had a coughing fit while working and Mid South allegedly fired him shortly afterward, saying he lacked long-term commitment to the company.
- "The law requires companies to make an individualized assessment of an employee's ability to perform the essential functions of his job, and not to rely on assumptions," an EEOC regional attorney, Rudy Sustaita, said in a statement.
As Sustaita pointed out, the ADA obligates employers to assess employees' abilities on a case-by-case basis and enable them to perform the essential functions of their jobs by providing reasonable accommodations, unless doing so would pose them undue hardship. While it's worth noting that employees aren't entitled to their preferred accommodation, employers need to be prepared to devote extra time to employees with disabilities to determine effective accommodations. According to the EEOC, reasonable accommodations can include:
- Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities;
- Job restructuring, modifying work schedules or reassignment to a vacant position; and
- Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.
Employers that fail to provide such accommodations may find themselves facing expensive consequences. A former Dollar General cashier who had diabetes, for example, won a $700,000 jury verdict after the store fired her for violating policy by keeping and drinking orange juice at her station to resolve a medical emergency.
Of course, training plays a major role in preparing managers to handle requests for accommodations in ways that comply with the ADA. "This case highlights another employer who failed to train its employees on the reasonable accommodation requirements under the ADA," EEOC attorney Faye Williams said in a statement announcing the Dollar General verdict.
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