A couple weeks ago, the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) held its annual conference in Denver, Colorado. On day three of the conference, ReedGroup’s Compliance Team, including myself, Carla O’Sullivan and Sheri Pullen, with special guest Garlande Patz from Guardian, presented “Law & Order: DMEC Edition,” an absence-management-focused parody of the well-known television franchise.
If you were unable to attend the presentation, we did a deep dive into a lawsuit brought against the fictional corporation, “Not So Savvy,” by Ms. Stephanie Boucher, a former employee, who was terminated while out on maternity leave and subsequent postpartum depression. Together with edge-of-your-seat videos, we walked through the discovery process, watched recorded depositions and courtroom action with witness testimony, and highlighted the facts of the case throughout, discussing best-practices and noting where the company or employee went awry. This was a fictional story, but it was based on the facts of real cases that ReedGroup has seen in the past year. After we watched Stephanie’s case unfold, we discussed one of the real-life cases and how it stands as a warning to all employers.
The gripping nature of this exciting drama did have one downside, however – we did not have enough time to discuss all the real-life cases from which we developed the story of Stephanie Boucher. So, we’d like to take this opportunity to give a summary of each of those cases, the result of each case, and identify key takeaways for employers.
EEOC v. West Suburban Medical Center
November 22, 2021
Facts of the Case
- Former radiology technician of West Suburban Medical Center requested a reasonable accommodation of a temporary, part-time schedule.
- Instead of granting this accommodation request, the Medical Center kept her on unpaid leave.
- After she no longer required a reasonable accommodation, the hospital refused to allow her to return to work and, instead, terminated her employment.
- EEOC filed suit on behalf of the former employee, alleging violations of the ADA.
- The former owner of West Suburban Medical Center was ordered to pay the employee $150,000.
- Working closely with employees on the interactive process is vital. Make sure you communicate well with the employee and assess all possible accommodations. Remember, an employer can deny a reasonable accommodation only if they can prove that it would cause an undue hardship.
Hannah P. v. Haines
December 30, 2021
Facts of the Case
- The employee was diagnosed with recurrent major depressive disorder and was unable to effectively manage her symptoms.
- When she requested an accommodation and leave, no FMLA assessment was performed.
- The employee was approved for leave, but FMLA was never discussed, and, instead, the employee used her annual leave and PTO.
- The Court ruled that the company had interfered with the employee’s FMLA rights because they were aware of her mental health issues, knew that the leave she was asking for was recommended by her physicians, and yet, the company still did not perform an FMLA assessment or notify her of her FMLA rights.
- Further, the company required her to use her annual leave, which would have otherwise been paid out when her employment ended.
- Employee was awarded $15,000.
- Employers covered by the FMLA are required to provide their employees with certain critical notices about the FMLA, detailing the rights and responsibilities of both employer and employee under the FMLA.
- For example, the employer must provide the employee with an eligibility notice within five business days of the initial request for leave or when the employer acquires knowledge that an employee leave may be for an FMLA-qualifying reason.
- Make sure all managerial staff are trained to recognize circumstances where an employee may need FMLA leave.
EEOC v. Ranew’s Management Company, Inc.
February 14, 2022
Facts of the Case
- The employee informed the company of his diagnosis of severe depression and requested to take three weeks off work, per his doctor’s recommendation.
- The company’s CEO told the employee to take as much time as he needed to get well.
- However, six weeks later, when the employee tried to return to work, presenting a release to return to work from his doctor, the CEO said he could not trust the employee to perform his job duties and, instead, fired him.
- EEOC filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging violations of the ADA.
- The company agreed to pay the employee $250,000.
- Additionally, the company also agreed to reporting, monitoring, training, creation, and distribution of ADA policies, and notice posting.
- Ensure all managerial staff is properly trained regarding the ADA interactive process and properly handling leave of absence. Keep records and follow up with employees who stay out on extended leaves of absence. If an employee needs more time on leave, document it well and be sure to have open communication with the employee. Review of policies and procedures and make sure that all policies and required postings are available to all employees.
Anderson v. Nations Lending Corporation
March 9, 2022
Facts of the Case
- Anderson exhibited performance deficiencies in her first year of employment for which she was provided ongoing training.
- In addition, Anderson experienced multiple health issues, exhausting all her sick time, and taking three-month extended leave.
- Anderson’s supervisor emailed her about more performance issues and the supervisor created a spreadsheet to continue tracking Anderson’s performance issues. Her supervisor made comments such as Anderson being “sick a lot” and “needing a full team there to run her department” during the FMLA leave.
- The supervisor asked Anderson to explain the errors, but Anderson was unable to explain the errors.
- These errors prompted Anderson’s supervisor to recommend Anderson’s employment be terminated based on poor performance.
- Anderson returned to work, and her supervisor followed the standard return-to-work process.
- The company terminated Anderson’s employment the following day based on the performance issues.
- Anderson sued under the ADA and for FMLA retaliation and interference, alleging that the company terminated her for taking FMLA leave and to discourage future FMLA leave.
- The District Court sided with the employer on all claims, concluding that the company presented “ample evidence of a nondiscriminatory rationale” for terminating Anderson’s employment, and that Anderson failed to provide evidence to refute their reasoning. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision on appeal.
- An employee who performs poorly may still be terminated, even if they take a job protected leave of absence. However, employers should be sure to record all performance issues and would be wise to consider the timing of termination in relation to job protected leave.
EEOC v. Activision Blizzard
March 30, 2022
Facts of the Case
- Activision Blizzard is one of the largest American video game developers and distributors with approximately 9,500 employees.
- In addition to jarring allegations of gender discrimination and sexual harassment, there were allegations of a slew of “discriminatory practices against pregnant female employees,” female parents, and females who were lactating.
- Some of these discriminatory practices included promotional discrimination, where a manager commented that the company could not “risk promoting” a female employee “as she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much.”
- The lawsuit also stated that “female employees were further treated negatively due to their pregnancies.”
- Supervisors would ignore the medical restrictions for pregnant female employees.
- Additionally, when out on maternity leave, pregnant workers received negative evaluations.
- Female employees reported that “they were criticized for leaving to pick up their children from daycare” and “female employees were kicked out of lactation rooms so employees could use the room for meetings.”
- EEOC filed a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and retaliation for complaining about discrimination.
- Read more about the case in our blog, here.
- After negotiations between the EEOC and Activision Blizzard, the two entities reached a settlement, which included $18 million in monetary relief.
- In addition to the monetary settlement, the company agreed to other terms, including:
- Anti-harassment/anti-discrimination training for employees and human resources personnel,
- Unannounced audits to assess whether issues are properly being addressed, and
- A review of the company’s policies and procedures.
- It goes without saying that it’s important that the workplace behavior seen in the Activision Blizzard case does not happen in your workplace. Ways to prevent this type of behavior can include continuous and annual training of all managerial staff, as well as a review of policies and procedures on an annual basis to ensure they are non-discriminatory and to ensure accommodations, pregnancies, and other leaves of absence are handled properly.
What ReedGroup is Doing
Feeling overwhelmed by the ever-changing leave law landscape? ReedGroup continuously tracks and analyzes legislation, rulemaking and caselaw addressing federal and state leave and disability benefits. ReedGroup has solutions for you and your business, including comprehensive absence management administration and compliant SaaS products. Check out our offerings here.
Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide legal advice. ReedGroup does not provide legal services. Consult an attorney for legal advice on this or any other topic.