Hotel group pays $125K to settle claims it failed to accommodate worker with asthma
- Merritt Hospitality, LLC and HEI Hotels and Resorts, LLC have agreed to pay $125,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging they failed to provide an accommodation to an employee with asthma.
- The former Embassy Suites hotel employee said she was assigned to a workspace that lacked ventilation and windows. The work environment worsened her asthma, causing "significant breathing issues" and a trip to the emergency room, according to EEOC. When she informed the company that she needed an accommodation for her disability, instead of engaging in the Americans with Disabilities Act's (ADA) interactive process, she was fired, EEOC said.
- The five-year consent decree also calls for the hotel to retain an EEO monitor; appoint an internal ADA coordinator; revise its ADA policies and procedures; create and maintain an accommodation log; implement ADA training for all employees; develop a centralized tracking system for accommodation requests and discrimination complaints and submit annual reports to the EEOC verifying compliance with the decree.
The ADA favors an interactive, good-faith process to find disability accommodations. An employer can show good faith in many ways, such as meeting with the employee; requesting information about the employee's limitations; and discussing available alternatives if a request is too burdensome. For employees with breathing problems, for example, the Job Accommodation Network suggests that employers provide a workspace with windows; test indoor air quality; maintain an HVAC system; use air purification systems; or use non-toxic building materials.
Employers can be liable for failing to provide an accommodation if they knew or should have known that an employee needed something, so managers should be trained to listen for things that might not be an obvious request. Employees don't need to use any special words and, in fact, don't even need to make a specific request to be eligible for the law's coverage.
Experts have suggested that, when an employee is having difficulty with his or her job because of a physical or mental condition, HR should train supervisors to ask: How can I help you?
"The interactive process is an integral part of the ADA and requests for accommodations must be taken seriously," Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles District Office, said in the news statement announcing the settlement.
The EEOC has said issues involving the ADA are part of its Strategic Enforcement Plan — priorities in "emerging and developing issues in equal employment law" that it plans to address.