EEOC Suit Against Pipe Fitting Business Shows Disability Discrimination Risks For Employers Hiring Vets With PTSD

May 28, 2014

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently is suing pipe fittings manufacturer EZEFLOW USA of New Castle, PA for allegedly violating federal employment discrimination laws by refusing to give a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) unpaid leave and then firing him as a result of his PTSD disability.  disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The lawsuit highlights the growing emphasis of the EEOC on enforcing the rights of veterans and others with disabilities against employers that it perceives violate federal disability and other discrimination laws.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit in EEOC v. EZEFLOW USA, Inc., Civil Action No. 2:14-cv-00527-MPK (W.D., Pa), Adam Brant, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, worked as a maintenance technician for EZEFLOW USA, at its U.S. headquarters in New Castle, Pa. While there, he experienced seizures later determined to be caused by PTSD. Brant provided the company’s human resources representative with a note from his neurologist requesting that Brant be off work for six weeks, and specifically restricting him from driving, heights and working with heavy machinery during that period.

According to the EEOC allegations, EZEFLOW USA maintains a policy of providing up to 26 weeks of paid leave to non-probationary employees The EEOC alleged that EZEFLOW USA first denied the request made by Brant for six weeks of unpaid medical leave because Brant was still a probationary employee and then later terminated him.

The EEOC says these actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employers from firing an individual because of his disability. The ADA also requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation, including granting unpaid medical leave, to an employee with a disability unless the company can show it would be an undue hardship to do so.

Over the past several years, the EEOC has stepped up its enforcement and outreach to employers on the rights of veterans and others with disabilities.  In light of this growing enforcement emphasis, businesses should review and tighten their employment practices for dealing with employees and applicants with military service or other related disabilities.  When undertaking these efforts, employers should review recent guidance highlighting the EEOC and other federal agency’s increasing proactiveness on behalf of veterans and others with disabilities.  For instance, after holding public hearings on Nov. 16, 2011 entitled “Overcoming Barriers to the Employment of Veterans with Disabilities, ” the EEOC issued two revised publications addressing veterans with disabilities and the ADA. The Guide for Employers explains how protections for veterans with service-connected disabilities differ under the ADA and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and how the EEOC perceives employers can prevent disability-based discrimination and provide reasonable accommodations.  The Guide for Wounded Veterans answers questions that veterans with service-related disabilities may have about the protections they are entitled to when they seek to return to their former jobs or look for civilian jobs. The publication also explains the kinds of accommodations that the EEOC perceives may be necessary to help veterans with disabilities obtain and successfully maintain employment.

This and other guidance helps provide a road map to employers for updating their employment and other practices to mitigate risks to discrimination suits by applicants and employees with service related or other disabilities.

In response to this and other evolving guidance and the EEOC’s heightened enforcement emphasis, all organizations, public or private, government contractor or not, should act to ensure both that their organizations, their policies, and people in form and in action understand and comply with current federal nondiscrimination laws and that these compliance activities are well-documented to help defend against potential charges or other challenges.  Because of changing regulatory and enforcement trends, organizations and their leaders should avoid assuming the adequacy of current compliance and risk management. Most organization should reevaluate their assessments on whether their organization is a federal government contractor or subcontractor to minimize the risk of overlooking critical obligations.

Many organizations need to update their understanding, policies and practices in light of tightening rules and enforcement. The scope and applicability of federal nondiscrimination and other laws have been expanded or modified in recent years by the differences in perspectives of the Obama Administration from the Bush Administration, as well as statutory, regulatory, judicial precedent and enforcement changes.  In addition, all organization should conduct well-documented periodic training and take other actions to monitor and enforce compliance by staff, contractors and others with whom they do business.

For Help With Compliance & Risk Management and Defense

If you need help in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your organization’s compliance, risk manage or other  internal controls practices or actions, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping private and governmental organizations and their management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; schools and other governmental agencies and others design, administer and defend innovative compliance, risk management, workforce, compensation, employee benefit, privacy, procurement and other management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, procurement, conflict of interest, discrimination management, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, reengineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters.Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

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PBGC Publishes Multiemployer Plans Valuation and Notice Requirements Final Rule

May 28, 2014

On May 28, 2014, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) published a final rule amending PBGC’s multiemployer regulations to reduce the number of actuarial valuations required for certain small terminated but not insolvent plans, shorten the advance notice filing requirements for mergers in situations that do not involve a compliance determination, and remove certain insolvency notice and update requirements.  The final rule is the latest in a series of planned or recently issued regulations that the PBGC is issuing to simplify and update its rules for the pension plan insurance program.

For Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need assistance monitoring these and other regulatory policy, enforcement, litigation or other developments, or to review or respond to these or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Arrangements Group, Co-Chair and Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plans Committee, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health plan and employee benefit, insurance, financial services, employer and health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others.

For the past two years, Ms. Stamer has served as the  scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR.   Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR, FTC, USSS, FBI and state and local law enforcement on privacy, data security, health care, benefits and insurance and other matters, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications. For instance, Ms. Stamer for the second year will serve as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR. Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance frequently appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer here. Examples of some recent publications that may be of interest include:

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©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.   All rights reserved.