This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
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EEOC PHOENIX – ValleyLife, a disability support services company, unlawfully discriminated against disabled employees by refusing to provide them with reasonable accommodations in violation of federal law, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed in the US District Court for Arizona.
ValleyLife is an Arizona corporation which provides programs and support services for individuals with disabilities in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area.
According to the EEOC’s suit, ValleyLife fired employees with disabilities rather than provide them with reasonable accommodations due to its inflexible leave policy. The policy compelled the termination of employees who had exhausted their paid time off and/or any unpaid leave to which they were eligible under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
For example, the Commission said that ValleyLife forced out one supervisor, Glenn Stephens, due to his need for further surgery when his FMLA leave was exhausted. ValleyLife did not engage in any interactive process to determine whether any accommodations (including additional leave) were possible, according to the suit.
Stephens had worked for ValleyLife for over ten years at the time of his termination. The suit also alleges that ValleyLife commingled medical records in employee personnel files and failed to maintain these medical records confidential in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Such alleged conduct violates the 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 documents confidential and separate from other personnel records.
The EEOC filed suit, EEOC v. ValleyLife, Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-00340-GMS, in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, after first attempting to reach a settlement through its pre-litigation conciliation process. The lawsuit seeks lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged victims, as well as appropriate injunctive relief to prevent discriminatory practices in the future.
“Individuals with disabilities are untapped resources that employers should value and utilize–indeed, this is the essence of ValleyLife’s business,” said EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill. “It is critical that employers reach out to employees with disabilities to make an informed and accurate evaluation of their ability to work and to provide reasonable accommodations where necessary.”
Rayford O. Irvin, district director of the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office, added, “Employers have a legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations unless there is an undue hardship. ValleyLife, of all employers, should understand that.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.
By Stephen Pate, NJN Network
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