BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Legal Newsline) – Wayne Farms has denied any wrongdoing in a case filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging it discriminated against its employees because of their disabilities.
The EEOC filed the suit when Wayne Farms fired employee Latonya Hodges for missing more than the allotted allowable absences as outlined in the poultry producer’s absence policy. The EEOC claims that Hodges missed work for a disability and had provided excuses to the employer.
Hodges missed work as a result of her asthma.
Wayne Farms has an absence policy that terminates employees after nine absences, regardless of reason. It does make exceptions for instances such as jury duty, bereavement, vacations, holidays and the Family Medical Leave Act.
The EEOC is alleging the termination violates the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) because of the inflexibility in its attendance policy that makes no allowances for absences as a result of a disability. Under Title 1 of the ADA, an employer must provide reasonable accommodations to a person with disabilities and prohibits discriminating against them because of these disabilities.
The EEOC is looking to obtain a court order that will make Wayne Farms change its policies for persons with disabilities. It is seeking lost wages, benefits, compensatory and punitive damages, as well as additional relief for Hodges and another victim.
Wayne Farms is standing firm that its policies are in line and plans to defend its actions.
“Wayne Farms is vigorously defending the allegations,” Frank Singleton, spokesperson for Wayne Farms told Legal Newsline.
“We've had no interaction with the EEOC on the matter for nearly two years. Wayne Farms participated in mediation in good faith, but were unwilling to meet the EEOC demands given the company's lack of wrongdoing.”
In a statement released by the company, Wayne Farms said it plans to actively dispute the EEOC class action lawsuit, which also includes another employee – Salvadora Roman. Roman stopped coming to work on her 10th absence because she thought she'd been fired. She initially missed work because of carpal tunnel syndrome and has joined Hodges and EEOC in the suit.
Wayne Farms said the suits have emerged from extensive investigations that were conducted five years ago. Hodges was terminated in 2011 and Roman assumed she was fired in 2012.
Jeremy Kilburn, vice president and general counsel for Wayne Farms said in a statement that, “Wayne Farms is completely confident that management met all legal and contract obligations to the two Decatur, Ala., employees.”
Kilburn also said both employees never raised any issues with the union regarding the matter.
Before filing suit, the EEOC tried to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process with Wayne Farms on the matter, but was unsuccessful. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.
Wayne Farms is the sixth-largest poultry producer in the U.S. It has 11 facilities throughout the Southeast and employees more than 9,000 people.