Auto parts retailer AutoZone Inc., was accused last Friday of violating federal law for allegedly implementing a nationwide attendance policy that failed to accommodate certain disability-related absences. This the fourth workplace disability discrimination lawsuit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed against the company in recent years.
In the latest case, the EEOC said that from 2009 until at least 2011, AutoZone assessed employees’ nationwide points for absences, without permitting any general exception for disability-related absences, with 12 points resulting in termination. As a result, the EEOC said in a statement, qualified employees with disabilities with “even modest” numbers of disability-related absences were fired in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. These included one Illinois employee with diabetes who had to leave work early occasionally because of insulin reactions, and who was fired because of his attendance points.
EEOC’s lawsuit also alleges that another employee was discharged in retaliation for complaining about the policy and filing a charge with the EEOC.
Providing reasonable accommodations for qualified people with disabilities “has been the law of the land for over two decades,” John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago district, said in the statement. “So it is especially disappointing any time a huge national employer with tens of thousands of employees repeatedly engages in unlawful discrimination against individuals with disabilities and declines to share responsibility for maintaining a level playing field for disabled American workers.”
Rigid attendance policy that doesn’t account for an employee’s specific medical condition and disability continues to be one of the more common reasons for filing wrongful termination lawsuits based on disability discrimination. Both ADA and California FEHA provide that an employer has an obligation to engage in an individualized assessment of a qualifying disabled employees job duties and limitations. “Individualized” often doesn’t go together with “rigid” leave or attendance policies.