Employee Recovering from Wrist Surgery Forced to Train Replacement, Then Fired, Federal Agency Charges
BOISE, Idaho -Jackson Energy, a division of Jacksons Food Stores, violated federal law by refusing to accommodate a worker recovering from wrist surgery and terminating her because of her disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed Friday.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, while working as a dispatcher for Jackson Energy in Meridian, Idaho, Penny Wightman suffered an injury to her wrist that required surgery and was not expected to be fully released to work for at least four to six months. At her employer's request, she returned to work on modified light duty one week after her surgery, and trained a colleague on her regular duties. However, a few weeks after she did so, the company forced Wightman to go on unpaid medical leave until she could return to work without any restrictions. The EEOC alleges that Jacksons ignored Wightman's requests for an accommodation, such as speech recognition software, that potentially would have allowed her to continue to perform her dispatcher duties, and instead they fired her when she exhausted her leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) before making a full recovery.
Terminating a qualified employee because of a disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law also requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship for the employer. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho (U.S. EEOC v. Jacksons Food Stores, Inc., d/b/a Jackson Energy, Case No. 1:17-CV-00407-REB) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks monetary damages on behalf of Wightman and injunctive relief, which typically includes training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the worksite, and compliance reporting.
This is the agency's second disability discrimination lawsuit against this employer. Just last month, the EEOC alleged that the company refused to interview a qualified applicant because he was deaf, in a suit filed in the Western District of Washington (EEOC v. Jacksons Food Stores, Inc., 2:17-CV-01285-TSZ).
"Jacksons acknowledged that Ms. Wightman was an excellent employee. But when she became injured, the company refused to even consider potential reasonable accommodations that might have allowed her to fully perform her duties, even with her restrictions," said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney May Che. "Instead, Jacksons had her train her replacement, forced her to take medical leave, then discarded her after that expired."
EEOC Seattle Field Director Nancy Sienko said, "The EEOC has made a national priority of identifying inflexible leave policies that discriminate against individuals with disabilities." She added, "To insist that workers are 100% healed before they can return to work defeats the whole purpose of the ADA, which is to ensure that when qualified employees with disabilities are ready and willing to work, they have that opportunity to earn a living instead of being sidelined by discrimination."
Meridian, Idaho-based Jackson Energy is a wholesale and transportation company delivering fuel to over 800 branded retail locations in 9 western states, and is a division of Jacksons Food Stores, Inc. According to its website, http://www.jacksons.com/, Jacksons Foods is national chain of over 230 Chevron-, Shell-, and Texaco-branded convenience stores and one of the largest privately held corporations in Idaho with operations in six Western states and over 3,000 employees.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.
Source: EEOC press release Sept. 2, 2017