Nineteen-Year Employee With Disabilities Denied Intermittent Leave as Reasonable Accommodation and Then Fired, Federal Agency Charged
ATLANTA – Treehouse Foods, Inc. / Treehouse Foods Private Brands, Inc., a food products manufacturer in Forest Park, Ga., will pay $50,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
The EEOC’s suit charged that Treehouse Foods denied its 19-year employee’s request for intermittent unpaid leave as an accommodation to receive treatment for her disabilities. Instead, the EEOC said, the company failed to engage in the required interactive process and assessed attendance infraction points to the employee under a rigid attendance policy. Treehouse Foods then fired the employee for exceeding the permissible number of attendance points, the EEOC said, despite the fact she provided medical excuses for her absences and despite the fact the leave was later approved by Treehouse Foods’ leave administrator.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on a disability. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 1:21-CV-0204-WMR-JKL) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement via its conciliation process.
Under the consent decree resolving the lawsuit, Treehouse Foods will pay $50,000 in monetary damages to the employee. Additionally, the company will award the employee her full pension and retirement benefits. Treehouse Foods also agreed to regular reporting, monitoring, annual training, updating and re-distribution of its ADA policies, and notice posting.
“An employer’s refusal to accommodate an employee who requests a defined period of intermittent medical leave for treatment of a disability — which would permit the employee to return to work in the immediate future — is a widely recognized violation of the law,” said Marcus G. Keegan, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta District Office. “The EEOC is pleased that the employee here has been compensated and that Treehouse Foods agreed to update and distribute its ADA policy as well as further train its employees on its obligations under the ADA. This company will be better equipped to respond next time an employee seeks intermittent leave as an accommodation for a disability.”
Darrell Graham, district director of the Atlanta office, said, “The EEOC is committed to seeking relief for workers who are harmed by employers who fail to engage in the interactive process required by law and who discriminate against employees who have the ability to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.”
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.