Can we fire an employee who lost an eye?
The employee filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s Miami office, claiming disability discrimination. During the EEOC’s investigation, the company sold its assets, including supplies, equipment, and inventory. The new company took over all operations and continued the same business at the same facility located at the same address in South Florida.
The EEOC concluded that the Florida business violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and offered to conciliate the matter. The EEOC concluded that it was unable to secure from companies a conciliation agreement acceptable to the EEOC. Therefore, the EEOC sued both companies on behalf of the employee.
An employee worked as a sheet metal installer for a company located in Hialeah, Florida. The employee informed his supervisor that he suffered an out-of-work injury that resulted in total loss of his left eye.
In the lawsuit, the EEOC claimed that the companies engaged in unlawful employment practices in violation of the ADA, by terminating the employee 1) because of his disability; and 2) because he was regarded as being disabled.
The EEOC is seeking to obtain against both Florida companies a permanent injunction enjoining them from refusing to schedule and terminating employees on the basis of disability or being regarded as disabled, backpay and either reinstatement or frontpay, additional money for emotional pain, suffering, and humiliation.
One month after his injury, the employee was cleared by his medical provider to return to work with no restrictions. The injured employee informed his supervisor repeatedly that he was cleared to return to work, but the employer did not schedule him for work.
Two weeks later, the supervisor told the employee that the company owner did not want the employee to return to work because of his lost eye, it would be a liability to the company, the owner did not want to deal with that “headache,” and that Acosta was no longer employed with the company.
Further, the EEOC is seeking punitive damages to punish both businesses for their “malicious and reckless conduct” and also the EEOC’s costs to bring and litigate the lawsuit. EEOC v. UD Enterprises and UD Solutions, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division (Case No. 1:18-cv-23573).
EEOC spokesmen in Miami stated: “This man was medically cleared to return to work and the company had no right to assume he was incapable. Employers cannot rely on their uninformed stereotypes and fears about actual or perceived disabilities to make employment decisions,” and “[t]he ADA makes it unlawful to terminate an employee who suffered some type of injury but remains a perfectly capable worker.”
Florida employers should not be surprised that the Miami District office of the EEOC considered this to be disability discrimination. If your business would like assistance in handling a matter with an employee, our law office always recommends contacting an experienced labor and employment discrimination lawyer before you fire the employee. The "facts" in this article are taken from the Complaint (lawsuit) filed with the federal Court in Miami.
Florida employers are reminded that one of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the EEOC to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA
If you need any assistance in determining in addressing an EEOC charge of discrimination concerning your Florida business or if you need guidance in any employment policies, please email the Law Office of David Miklas, P.A. or call us at 1-772-465-5111.
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