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


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:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at ww.solutionslawpress.com.

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

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