Federal Appeals Court OK’s Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Against Ford Motor Company
On April 22nd, a majority panel of judges on the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had created enough issues for a trial in a lawsuit filed by a woman alleging disability discrimination against the Ford Motor Company.
According to the lawsuit, filed by plaintiff Jane Harris in 2011, the Ford Motor Company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when they denied her the ability to telecommute from home up to 4 days per week, which she requested because she suffers from irritable bowel syndrome. When she filed a complaint about the disability discrimination with the EEOC, Ford fired her.
Ford’s telecommuting policy authorizes employees to work up to 4 days per week from a telecommuting site. Harris was a resale steel buyer, and her job’s primary requirement was phone and computer access, which she had from her home, in order to contact suppliers.
Lower courts ruled in favor of Ford Motor, stating that Harris’s disability-related absences meant that she was not a “qualified” individual under ADA rules, and that attendance on a job site was an essential requirement of her position. A lower district court also ruled that the EEOC could not prove that Harris had been fired for retaliatory reasons, which would back up the disability discrimination claim, but instead had to do with Harris’s performance problems and absenteeism.
The Sixth Circuit ruling reverses the lower courts’ rulings, and the majority panel noted that “the law must respond to the advance of technology in the employment context . . . and recognize that the ‘workplace’ is anywhere that an employee can perform her job duties.” The Sixth Circuit ruled that the case should go to trial because a jury should rule whether or not Harris’s physical presence on a job site was truly a requirement of her position. The majority panel also held that the EEOC created a legitimate question regarding the retaliatory nature of Harris’s firing from Ford.
“The world has changed since the foundational [federal appeals court] opinions regarding physical presence in the workplace were issued: teleconferencing technologies that most people could not have conceived of in the 1990s are now commonplace,” Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote. “Therefore, we are not persuaded that positions that require a great deal of teamwork are inherently unsuitable to telecommuting arrangements.”
“The decision reaffirms the employer’s important obligation to provide reasonable accommodation unless [the employer] can show it results in undue hardship,” EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez said in an April 22 statement.
The Strom Law Firm Represents Discriminated Employees in South Carolina
The Strom Law Firm represents individuals whose rights have been violated or discriminated against in the workplace as employees, whether the case involves criminal history, disability discrimination, or discrimination based on gender, creed, or race.
South Carolina is an at-will employment state, meaning that you have the right to quit your job at any time for any reason or no reason at all; likewise, your employer can hire or fire you for any reason or no reason at all. However, an employer cannot fire you for any reason that:
• is illegal or protected under State or Federal law,
• violates the express terms of an implied or express contractual agreement, or
• violates public policy.
Unlawful discrimination, which is often tied to a constructive discharge claim, is difficult to prove. There are certain procedural steps that you must take to assert your claim, making it critical that you contact a South Carolina employment or disability discrimination attorney to ensure that your rights are protected. We offer free, confidential consultations to discuss the facts of your case, how you were discriminated against, and whether the employee policies of the company provide you with support. 803.252.4800