In a press release last month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that Verizon Communications will pay $20 million and take other remedial measures to settle a class action disability discrimination lawsuit that the EEOC filed against the company. The consent decree for settlement of the lawsuit, which is pending judicial approval, is the largest disability discrimination settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history.
The lawsuit claimed that Verizon unlawfully denied reasonable accommodations to hundreds of employees and disciplined or fired them pursuant to the company’s “no fault” attendance policy. Under Verizon’s no fault policy, if an employee accumulated a certain number of “chargeable absences,” the company placed the employee in a disciplinary status that could eventually result in more serious discipline or termination. The EEOC contended that Verizon failed to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities by refusing to make exceptions to its no fault attendance policy for employees whose chargeable absences were caused by their disabilities and, in some cases, disciplining or terminating these employees.
According to the lawsuit, Verizon violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) because its no fault attendance policy was inflexible and made no provision for whether a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities, such as allowing an employee to take paid or unpaid leave, could be made without causing the company significant difficulty or expense. In addition to the $20 million for the affected employees, the settlement also requires the company to revise its attendance policies to include reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities, and provide periodic training on ADA requirements to employees responsible for administering Verizon’s attendance policies.
There is a lot of attention being focused on HR policies and systems lately. This area is heating up probably faster than any other in the industry. It is appropriate for an employer to have solid policies and procedures, but every policy should allow a manager to make an exception if warranted, and provide reasonable accommodations. With the recent changes to the ADA, EEOC has defined reasonable accommodations and employers have to understand what those requirements are. Employers should also keep an eye on what’s happening with the OFCCP, because that is also going to impact HR systems and processes.
This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.