ValleyLife Failed to Provide Reasonable Accommodations to Employees With Disabilities, Federal Agency Charges
PHOENIX - ValleyLife, a disability support services company, will pay $100,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, ValleyLife had a practice of firing employees with disabilities who needed extended leave or reassignment rather than providing them with reasonable accommodations as required under federal law. The EEOC alleged that ValleyLife simply terminated people who had exhausted their paid time off and/or any unpaid leave for which they were eligible under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rather than determine if there was a reasonable accommodation that would allow them to continue to work.
The EEOC further charged that ValleyLife did not engage in any kind of back-and-forth dialogue with the employees to explore whether reasonable accommodations were possible. For example, the agency said ValleyLife could have reassigned the employees to other positions, provided additional leave, or provided other kinds of accommodations such as a shift change or assistance with lifting. The EEOC also alleged that ValleyLife commingled medical records in employee personnel files and failed to keep these medical records confidential.
All this alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects workers from discrimination based upon disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental impairments of disabled employees unless doing so would cause an undue hardship. Moreover, the ADA requires employers to keep employees' medical information confidential and separate from other personnel records.
The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona (EEOC v. ValleyLife, Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-00340-GMS) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The consent decree settling the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona and signed by Judge G. Murray Snow, requires ValleyLife to pay $100,000 to four ex-employees. Besides the monetary relief, the decree requires the company to revise its policies to make clear that the company will consider reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees with disabilities; provide ADA training to its work¬force from top to bottom; keep medical records confidential and separate from personnel files; and post a notice informing its employees of their rights under the ADA.
"People with disabilities are valuable contributors to our workforce," said EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill. "It is critically important for employers to make genuine efforts to provide reasonable accommodations for those employees with disabilities who need them. It's good business, and it's also the law."
District Director Elizabeth Cadle of the EEOC's Phoenix District Office, added, "Employees with disabilities whose FMLA leave has been exhausted have independent rights under the ADA. Employers must consider reasonable accommodations including additional unpaid leave, leaves of absence, and reassignment."