Zoom in on Court Decisions and Settlements
DOJ Settles Lawsuit with Baltimore County, Maryland
County Will Revise Policies and Practices, Pay Compensatory Damages
The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed simultaneously a complaint and a consent decree to settle a number of allegations related to the employment practices of Baltimore County, Maryland. The complaint combined charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by a number of individuals, ranging from applicants to employees who had worked for the County for decades. Workers held jobs ranging from police officers and firefighters to an administrative office worker and a professional in the human resources department.
Most of the complainants alleged that they were compelled to produce complete medical records, in some cases dating back to childhood, and subjected to extensive and invasive medical examinations and improper questions about their health and personal lives that were completely unrelated to their job duties.
Several of these workers described similar experiences when ordered to report for medical examinations. Exams were triggered by a variety of conditions, ranging from breast cancer to back injuries, which in some cases had taken place months or even years earlier. Regardless of the purported reasons for the examinations, the doctor inquired about their marital backgrounds and their children, childhood illnesses and injuries, and whether they drank alcohol, coffee, tea, or soda. Far-reaching physical exams were generally conducted.
Many of the workers stated that they complied with orders and submitted to examinations to avoid disciplinary actions, but one individual alleged that she was subjected to retaliation when she objected to the scope of an examination. A paramedic/firefighter requested that her exam be limited to the condition for which she was being evaluated; she was suspended without pay for three weeks, and penalized further upon her return to work.
Meanwhile, a director of human resources repeatedly tried to raise concerns about medical examination practices and warn his superiors about potential ADA violations. He claimed he was threatened, isolated, marginalized, had his responsibilities reduced and his staff downsized, began suddenly receiving negative reviews after years of positive ratings, and was ultimately constructively discharged when, fearing termination and the loss of his pension, he applied for retirement two years early. He also charged the County with retaliation.
The EEOC found merit in almost all of the individuals’ charges, but was unable to reach satisfactory resolutions, so referred the issues to the DOJ. The consent decree will require the county to implement a number of policy and practice measures to ensure equal employment opportunities for applicants and employees with disabilities.
Individual complainants will receive a variety of specific forms of relief, including back pay, restoration of benefits, and compensatory damages in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $75,000.
EEOC Charges Employer with Firing Worker Who Needed Time Off for Cancer Treatment
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced a settlement agreement which will resolve a lawsuit filed against Home Depot. The EEOC charged the retailer with failure to reasonably accommodate an employee and firing her when she requested unpaid time off to have surgery.
Judy Henderson worked as a cashier at the Home Depot store in Towson, Maryland for thirteen years and regularly received positive performance ratings. When she requested time off for cancer treatments, she was asked to provide an expected date of return. She did so, but was then told she was being terminated due to a seasonal slowdown and lack of work.
The EEOC believed the stated reason was merely a pretext for discrimination, as Ms. Henderson had been temporarily laid off, rather than permanently terminated, when there were slow periods in the past. Additionally, two other cashiers were hired at the Towson store after Ms. Henderson notified the company that she would soon be ready to return to work.
"Employers must give unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation unless they can prove it would be a significant cost or disruption," said EEOC Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. "It can be difficult for a major nationwide retailer the size of Home Depot to show how a few extra weeks of unpaid leave would be an undue hardship."
Home Depot will provide monetary relief to Ms. Henderson, post notice about the settlement, and train managers and human resource staff.
The mother of a minor child filed a private lawsuit against the Milton Hershey School when it refused to admit her son because of his HIV status. The Hershey School is a private residential school serving children from pre-school through high school, and the School asserted that admitting a student with HIV would pose too great a risk in this setting.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) subsequently opened its own investigation, and joined in settling the issues between the School and the student and his mother, as well as on behalf of the United States.
The School will initiate a number of measures to ensure that future applicants are not discriminated against because of their disabilities. A non-discrimination policy will be developed and posted, and an extensive staff training program will be implemented. The School will also provide age-appropriate awareness training to students to promote respectful and courteous treatment of individuals with disabilities and discourage harassment or bullying.
The School offered to reconsider the student’s application for admission, but his mother decided attendance was no longer in his best interest. Therefore, the School will pay a total of $700,000 in damages to the family. Additionally, the School will pay $15,000 to the United States to vindicate the public interest.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), as part of its Project Civic Access, initiated a review of Schuylkill County’s programs, services, and activities. DOJ surveyed a variety of facilities, and reviewed the County’s policies and procedures regarding voting, emergency management and disaster prevention, and sidewalk maintenance.
The County in the next few years will make a number of upgrades to facilities, enhance website accessibility, establish a plan to ensure the accessibility of sidewalks and curb ramps, integrate people with disabilities into emergency planning and preparation efforts, and train staff on the use of the Pennsylvania Relay Service to communicate with people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have speech disabilities.