When an employer is sued for discrimination and decides to settle the case, the details are confidential. When the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sues an employer, however, the settlement is very public and includes a press release giving details about the resolution. Recently, the EEOC announced a settlement with a Winston-Salem company in a case alleging disability discrimination.
According to the EEOC, Jean Perry was an employee of TriMark Foodcraft, LLC, a business specializing in commercial kitchen equipment and operating a distribution facility in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She worked for the company through a temporary placement agency as an accounts payable costing clerk.
In December 2018, Perry was admitted to the hospital for breathing complications related to an underlying health condition. She attempted to return to work, but Trimark fired her after she announced she required the use of a personal oxygen device and would need to bring it to work with her. The EEOC claimed:
- Trimark had a legal obligation to permit Perry to use the oxygen tank at work as a reasonable accommodation; and
- She was unlawfully discharged because of a disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Settling with the EEOC
The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Instead of going to trial, Trimark decided to settle the case and agreed to:
- Pay $25,000 to Perry and provide other nonmonetary relief;
- Amend its current antidiscrimination policy to include examples of job modifications that may qualify as reasonable accommodations under the ADA; and
- Post the policy where it’s visible to employees.
The settlement further requires TriMark to conduct annual ADA training for HR employees and specialized training for the decision maker. It also must provide periodic reports to the EEOC.
We are sure there’s more to the story than what the EEOC presented, and the monetary payment was less than what it would have cost the company in fees to go to trial.
Nevertheless, the case serves as a good reminder of the importance of carefully considering requests for workplace accommodations because of a disability. The ADA requires you to engage in a good-faith interactive process with an employee to determine if a solution can be found that won’t create an undue hardship.