On December 20th, 2022, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that ISS Facility Services will pay $47,500 and provide other relief to settle disability discrimination and retaliation charges. Specifically, the charges allege that the employer failed to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee with a qualified disability. Subsequently, the employee was terminated. This settlement and other recent cases demonstrate the importance of employers  closely examining how they handle disability accommodation in their workplaces. Federal, state, and local workplace disability discrimination laws cover virtually all employers. Earlier this month, the EEOC announced that a nationwide convenience store chain would pay $8 million to resolve pregnancy and disability discrimination claims.

Background of the Case

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, an employee with a pulmonary condition worked for ISS Facility Services (the employer) as a health and safety manager. From March 2020 through June 2020, the employer required employees to work remotely four days out of the workweek because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, the employer asked employees to return to in-person work full time. However, the employee requested a disability accommodation to continue working remotely two days a week and be allowed frequent breaks while at the worksite. The employee reasoned that her pulmonary condition qualified as a disability putting her at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Although the employer allowed other similarly situated employees to work remotely, it denied this particular employee’s request. Subsequently, the employer terminated the employee in retaliation.

Overview of Workplace Disability Discrimination and Retaliation

Workplace disability discrimination occurs when an employer covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), or applicable state and local laws, treats a qualified person with a disability unfavorably because of their disability. Unfavorable treatment can include denying employment, harassment, demotion, termination, pay reduction, or denying training, benefits, or promotion. Adverse employment actions like these constitute both disability discrimination and retaliation. Under the ADA, disabled individuals must have an impairment that is:

  • not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less), or
  • minor (even if he or she does not have such an impairment).

All businesses that are subject to a state, federal, or local law regarding disability discrimination must comply with their legal duty to reasonably accommodate qualified individuals with a disability. A reasonable accommodation is a modification to a process, job role, or work environment to help an individual with a physical or mental impairment perform the essential functions of a job. Indeed, reasonable accommodations may include changes to work schedules like allowing employees to work remotely.

Penalties in the Disability Discrimination and Retaliation Case

In Civil Action No. 1:21-cv-03708-SCJ-RDC filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division (the Court), the Court found that the employer’s conduct constituted disability discrimination and retaliation under the ADA. The Court ordered a two-year consent decree to resolve the lawsuit. Under the consent decree, the employer will pay $47,500 in monetary damages to the employee. In addition, the employer will train its employees on the ADA, rewrite employment policies to prevent disability discrimination and retaliation, and allow the EEOC to monitor how the employer handles future disability accommodation requests.