ADA Inflexible Leave Case Settled

Lawsuits involving inflexible leave policies always get my attention. I have been speaking and writing about such policies for decades. Last year, the EEOC sued Pilgrim’s Pride, alleging that it had violated the ADA by not modifying its attendance and leave policies to accommodate an employee with a disability. Earlier this month, the case was settled for $50,000 and other non-monetary relief.

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In its press release about the settlement, an EEOC official stated that “Nearly 30 years after the enactment of the ADA, some employers are still enforcing inflexible attendance policies… This lawsuit is a reminder to employers they have an obligation to make exceptions to attendance policies and provide leave as a form of reasonable accommodation unless doing so would result in undue hardship.”

Underlying the EEOC’s inflexible leave position is the oxymoronic anomaly that an individual who cannot come to work is nonetheless a qualified individual with a disability, defined as one who can perform the essential functions of the position either with or without an accommodation.

Not all courts subscribe to the EEOC’s view of inflexible leave policies. In 2017, the Seventh Circuit not only rejected the EEOC’s inflexible leave position but also held that the ADA does not even govern medical leaves. “The ADA is an antidiscrimination statute, not a medical-leave entitlement…. Long-term medical leave is the domain of the FMLA,” the Seventh Circuit said in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc. Continue reading

EEOC Sues Blood Bank Over Inflexible Leave Policy

The Blood Bank of Hawaii violated the ADA by giving employees only the leave they were entitled to under the FMLA, the EEOC has claimed in a lawsuit filed last week, according to the Agency’s press release.  This is yet another case in which the EEOC has sued an employer over an inflexible, or “rigid,” maximum leave policy.  The EEOC’s view is that an employer has an obligation under the ADA to consider granting leave beyond the FMLA as an accommodation to an employee’s disability.  The EEOC also claims in the lawsuit that the Blood Bank required employees to return to work without any limitations, according to the press release.

I posted recently about UPS paying $2 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the EEOC with similar allegations.

The EEOC’s lawsuit raises fascinating legal issues, at least to those following the legal developments concerning maximum leave policies. One is the relationship between the ADA and FMLA. Congress passed the FMLA in February 1993. It requires employers with at least 50 employees to provide a maximum of 12 weeks of leave for an employee’s serious health condition.  Title I of the ADA went into effect six months before the FMLA was passed. It applies to employers with at least 15 employees. The EEOC’s view is that the maximum leave required by the FMLA is merely the starting point for determining whether an employer has fulfilled its obligation to provide leave under the ADA.

One has to wonder why Congress debated the number of employees an employer must have to be covered by the FMLA, and the maximum number of weeks of leave an employer must provide if the ADA had already required employers with as few as 15 employees to provide an uncapped amount of leave, limited only by the “undue hardship” defense.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, eventually this issue with be on the docket of the Supreme Court of the United States.