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Verizon to pay largest ADA violations settlement in EEOC history

In May, we wrote that Starbucks was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after an employee with dwarfism was fired for requesting a step ladder to aid her in her barista duties.

The EEOC argued that the firing was in violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and constituted wrongful termination. The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to their employees with disabilities unless doing so would cause an undue hardship.

The EEOC recently announced that it has both filed and settled another lawsuit alleging violations of the ADA. The $20 million settlement with Verizon Communications is the largest amount for any lawsuit stemming from violations of the ADA.

Verizon was accused of having an inflexible attendance policy that failed to make reasonable accommodations to those with disabilities. An EEOC representative said: "each time you were absent, regardless of the reason, you would accumulate points, and once you reach a certain point you can be disciplined and ultimately discharged."

More than 40 individual charges have been filed with the EEOC regarding this issue since 2006. The EEOC commissioner had also previously filed a charge against Verizon. If approved by a judge, the settlement will resolve the current lawsuit and all previous charges.

The EEOC believes that allowing absences for disabled employees constitutes a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. A representative says: "Flexibility on leave can enable a worker with a disability to remain employed and productive. . . An inflexible leave policy may deny workers with disabilities a reasonable accommodation to which they're entitled by law - with devastating effects."

Verizon did not concede that it violated the ADA with its leave policy, and said the settlement is meant to avoid lengthy litigation. A spokesman for the company says that Verizon has accommodation policies that exceed those required by law. He added that the lawsuit and settlement will provide Verizon with "clearer guidance" about absence policies as they relate to the ADA.

Source: The Baltimore Sun online, "Verizon to pay $20 million to settle discrimination suit," Lorraine Mirabella, 06 July 2011

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