Federal laws protect employees of many employers from various types of discrimination in the workplace. One of these laws is the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to employers with 15 or more employees. The ADA prevents a covered employer from adversely treating an employee based on a disability. It also generally requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation so that a qualified individual with a disability can perform the essential functions of their job. The law defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.
A federal agency called the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the ADA and other federal laws prohibiting workplace discrimination. If an employee contacts the ADA about what they believe to be illegal conduct, the EEOC will investigate and can sue the employer if they find the complaint justified. This is what happened to Walmart last week.
The EEOC filed a lawsuit against Walmart in a federal court in North Carolina, based on a complaint by a former Walmart employee. Adrian Tucker had worked as a deli associate at a Walmart in Statesville, North Carolina from 2014 to 2017. Unfortunately, Tucker suffers from an inflammatory bowel disease called Crohn’s disease. This can cause diarrhea, pain, fatigue, and weight loss, among other symptoms. Crohn’s cannot be cured at this point, but treatment can greatly alleviate symptoms and allow patients to function effectively.
The lawsuit asserts that Walmart violated the ADA requirement for reasonable accommodations through its treatment of Tucker between November 2016 and April 2017. Tucker requested various absences from her work due to her Crohn’s disease. Walmart excused some of these disability-related absences, but it failed to excuse other absences, such as those needed for medical appointments and a hospitalization. Tucker also asked to be transferred to a position closer to a bathroom to accommodate her condition. Ultimately, Walmart fired her for incurring too many unexcused absences under its company policy, even though Tucker had provided doctor’s notes to support her requests.
The EEOC is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for Tucker. It also seeks injunctive relief to end ongoing discrimination and prevent future discrimination by Walmart.
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