Under federal and state laws, disabled people are a protected class. These laws make it illegal for employers to discharge, fail to promote, fail to hire, or otherwise treat the person differently because of a physical or mental disability so long as that person is able to perform the job. These laws also require employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with any physical or mental disabilities.
A recent settlement involving Walmart highlights disability discrimination in the workplace.
Walmart Inc. will pay $80,000 and implement nationwide changes to its disability reassignment policy to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to the federal agency.
The EEOC’s lawsuit claims that Walmart violated federal law by failing to reassign a long- term employee at its Augusta, Maine location to vacant positions in its Waterville or Thomaston, Maine locations after she became disabled. The lawsuit alleged that the disbaled woman, who had worked for Walmart since 1999, developed a disability that, according to Walmart, prevented her from continuing to work in a sales associate position in Augusta. Walmart determined that the only positions that could accommodate her disability were fitting room associate and people greeter. While there were no such positions vacant in Augusta, there were two fitting room associate positions open in Waterville and one in Thomaston. Walmart’s policy, however, was to search for open positions only in the store where the employee had been working. Because of this, Walmart did not transfer the woman to the positions in Waterville or Thomaston, which she would have happily accepted. As a result, the woman never worked for Walmart again.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating based on disability and imposes a requirement that employees with disabilities be provided a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship on the employer. The ADA states that one of these accommodations is reassignment to a vacant position.
The EEOC filed its suit (Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-00170-JDL) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine in Bangor after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
As part of the settlement, Walmart will change its policy so associates with a disability that are eligible for job reassignment under the ADA as a reasonable accommodation can request that Walmart search at up to five stores beyond an associate’s then-current store location (“home store”) or in the home store’s entire market. The revised procedures will be applied to all hourly field associates working in Walmart retail stores in the United States.
Walmart is also enjoined from failing to offer to reassign a qualified individual with a disability to a vacant position. Finally, the woman will receive payment of $80,000.
“Federal law requires employers to reassign employees with a disability to vacant positions as the reasonable accommodation of last resort,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office. “We are very pleased that this lawsuit, which arose from a single employee’s complaint, resulted in the nationwide change we sought, and we applaud Walmart for making that change.”
EEOC New York District Director Kevin Berry added, “Employers cannot refuse to offer a reasonable accommodation required by law absent undue hardship. This case demonstrates that looking beyond the home store for a vacant position is not an undue hardship.”
The EEOC’s New York District Office oversees New York, Northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.
The law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. These accommodations can include:
- Medical leave or even the extension of medical leave
- Allowing an employee to work from home
- Reassigning to an available position
- Modified equipment or devices
- Modified work schedules
- Adjustment of policies or additional training
- Interpreters or any other required assistance
- Accessible workspace
Once an employee tells their employer that they have a disability that requires accommodations, there are certain state laws that kick in requiring an interactive process between the employer and the employee. In the state of Florida, this interactive process requires the employer to communicate with the employee in selecting an appropriate accommodation. The best way to initiate this process is for the employee to request a reasonable accommodation. This interactive process involves various things, such as analyzing the particular job involved to determine the essential functions, speaking with the employee to learn their job-related limitations, talking with the employee to identify potential accommodations and get their preferences as far as the job duties are concerned.
Reasonable accommodations can include things such as making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to individuals with disabilities, restructuring jobs, modifying the position to part-time, modifications of equipment used, adjusting the training materials and policies related to the job, and/or providing qualified readers or interpreters.