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Employment Discrimination Update: AT&T Sued for Failure to Provide Reasonable Accommodation to Disability

above-the-bar-logo.jpgThe EEOC brought an action this week against telecommunication giant AT&T for allegedly discriminating against an employee because of her disability. The lawsuit has charged the company with not providing the employee a reasonable accommodation and then terminating her because of such disability.

Our attorneys have helped many individuals obtain reasonable accommodation for their disability as well as settle and successfully pursue claims of disability discrimination. If you have been discriminated against because of your disability, our attorneys can you help you figure out your best course of action.

The complaint alleges that Lupe Cardona, who was employed at AT&T as a corporate service representative in Indianapolis since 1984, asked for a finite leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation to get treatment for Hepatitis C. Without receiving the treatment, her disease would eventually have been fatal. AT&T gave her the requested leave when they learned about her disability and treatment. Accordingly, Cardona took her approved, paid medical leave from June 24 to October 24, 2010. Thereafter, having been treated successfully, her doctor allowed her to go back to work without any restrictions. Two days after coming back to work, AT&T fired her on the basis that her leave of absence violated their attendance policy.

AT&T would not give Cardona reasonable accommodation which they could easily have done by exempting her from their no-fault attendance policy. Before filing this lawsuit, the EEOC also tried reach a pre-litigation settlement. The EEOC’s suit seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and reinstatement of front pay as well as injunctive relief for the employee. The complaint also wants the court to issue an order stopping AT&T from failing to provide reasonable accommodation to disabled employees by counting absences which were caused by their disability as “chargeable,” or unprotected absences under its attendance policy.

EEOC trial attorney Patrick Holman stated that “The refusal of AT&T to make a perfectly reasonable exception to its draconian attendance policy to accommodate the known disability of an employee violated federal law as well as common sense and common decency.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal for private employers to discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities with respect to hiring, firing, promotions, compensation, training, and any other terms or conditions of employment. The Act applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments.

An individual with a disability is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. A qualified individual with a disability is an individual, who with or without reasonable accommodation can perform the job’s essential functions.

The Act provides that an employer is required to make a reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified individual if it would not impose an “undue hardship” on the operations of the business. An undue hardship may be posed if it requires great difficulty or expense when other factors such as the employer’s size, financial resources, and company structure are considered. For example, it may be an undue hardship for a company to buy modifying equipment costing tens of thousands of dollars if it is operating at a loss.

It is shocking that a company such as AT&T couldn’t reasonably accommodate a woman for her medical treatment who had been an employee for 16 years. Even if AT&T’s attendance policy is very strict, it was unreasonable not to make an exception in this case. If you have been discriminated against because of a disability or your employer has failed to provide you with a reasonable accommodation, call our Disability Attorneys at Villanueva & Sanchala at (800) 893-9645 to help you protect your rights at the workplace.

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