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EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit Against UPS Settled for $2 Million

8.28.2017

On August 8, 2017, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a press release announcing that its lawsuit against United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS), alleging disability discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has been settled for $2 million dollars. In that suit, the EEOC alleged that UPS maintained an “inflexible leave policy” by which disabled employees were automatically discharged if they were unable to return to work after exhausting the maximum 12 months of leave provided by the policy. Thus, according to the EEOC, UPS’ policy effectively shut down the interactive process required by the ADA to determine whether additional reasonable accommodations were available to such persons. 

The EEOC suit against UPS arose in part from the company’s discharge of former employee, Trudi Momsen. During her employment, Ms. Momsen took a 12-month leave of absence from work due to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. She returned to work at the conclusion of that 12-month leave, but shortly thereafter requested an additional two-week leave for medical reasons. UPS then terminated her for exceeding the 12-month leave policy. Based upon its investigation, the EEOC concluded that UPS’ 12-month leave policy and its application to employees such as Ms. Momsen violated the reasonable accommodation and other provisions of the ADA. When conciliation efforts failed, the EEOC filed the lawsuit against UPS in the U.S. District Court in Chicago. The suit involved a class of nearly 90 current and former UPS employees whom the EEOC alleged were victims of UPS’ employment practices.

In addition to $2 million dollars in monetary relief for the alleged victims of discrimination, the settlement reached between the EEOC and UPS provides for UPS to revise its policies on reasonable accommodation and train those who administer the company’s disability accommodation processes. According to the EEOC’s press release regarding the settlement, having a multiple-month leave of absence policy does not, in and of itself, guarantee compliance with the ADA. Rather, such policy “must also include the flexibility to work with employees with disabilities who may simply require reasonable accommodation to return to work.”

The UPS lawsuit is particularly instructive for employers which maintain leave policies similar to that utilized by UPS. In many instances, such policies are more generous than what is required by the FMLA or comparable state laws. Nevertheless, while it is common for such policies to include a cap on the amount of leave that an employee is allowed to take, employers should be extremely cautious about how those policies are applied to employees who are unable to return to work due to medical reasons. At a minimum, policies should include language that even when an employee has exhausted such leave benefits, the employer will engage in the interactive process with the employee in need of extended leave in order to determinate possible reasonable accommodation consistent with the ADA. The bottom line is that any policy which does not allow for this flexibility in its application can create significant risk of liability under the ADA. 

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