BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Legal Newsline) – The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a lawsuit against a poultry farm for allegedly violating the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The EEOC filed the suit against Wayne Farms in regards to two employees who were let go because of absences that violated the company’s attendance policy. The EEOC alleges the company’s attendance policy is a violation of the ADA as it allegedly requires the termination of any employee who accumulates more than nine absences in a 12-month period and doesn’t account for absences for a disability.
The two employees, Latonya Hodges and Salvadora Roman, are at the center of the suit. In Hodges' case, she missed work because of her asthma and was terminated under Wayne Farms’ attendance policy in 2011. Roman missed work because of her carpal tunnel syndrome and quit coming to work after she had over nine absences, assuming she was terminated in 2012.
The EEOC says Wayne Farms should have made accommodations for the employees and been more flexible in its attendance policy. The EEOC alleges Wayne Farms’ attendance policy doesn’t take into account absences caused by an employee’s disability unless it is provided for under the Family Medical Leave Act or other approved absences such as holidays, vacations, bereavement and jury duty.
Even with an excuse that the absence was for a disability, the EEOC maintained that Wayne Farms would terminate an employee after his or her 10th absence.
The EEOC also alleges the attendance policy of Wayne Farms acts as a qualification test to screen out individuals with disabilities and is in no way job-related or in line with necessary business.
“Wayne Farms could have done nothing wrong, but the EEOC claims that its attendance policy mandating the automatic termination of employees who accrued 10 absences within a year, even those with excused disability-related absences, was, in effect, a qualification standard that screened out or tends to screen out individuals with disabilities,” Virginia Broughton Reeves, associate at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, told Legal Newsline.
Notably, both incidents took place several years ago.
“Under the ADA, if the employees filed their EEOC charges within 180 days and the lawsuit is filed within 90 days of the issuance of the dismissal and notice of rights, even five years is timely,” Reeves said. “It is unusual but not untimely.”
Regarding the allegations, Reeves said, “Wayne Farms has said they believe they acted appropriately.”
Wayne Farms has said it will defend its actions as necessary as it believes it “met all legal and contract obligations.” The company also mentioned that neither employees brought the matter up to their union.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The EEOC attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement with Wayne Farms but was unsuccessful.
The EEOC is seeking the court to order Wayne Farms to comply with ADA and bar it from applying its attendance policy to disabled employees.