Disability Program Sued For Disability Discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is suing a nonprofit providing programs for people with disabilities and others to build self-reliance through educational, therapeutic, and employment services for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by refusing to accommodate an employee with a degenerative hip impairment and instead fired her.

The ADA prohibits employers from refusing to provide reasonable accommodations to employees or applicants with a disability unless doing so would constitute an undue hardship.

According to the EEOC’s suit filed today (March 3, 2023) against Innovative Services NW (ISNW),Carly Romero earned praise as a valued employee and strong performer by high level managers during the seven years she worked as a janitor in the Innovative Services NW (ISNW), Janitorial Services Program in Vancouver, Washington.

In November 2019, Romero attempted to return to work with a doctor’s release allowing her to resume janitorial activities, except for wearing a backpack vacuum. As a reasonable accommodation, Romero asked to use an upright vacuum instead. The EEOC’s investigation found that even though ISNW had permitted other janitors to use upright vacuums at some customer sites, ISNW refused Romero’s repeated requests to return to work. Claiming “there would be too much risk to return [Romero] to work without a 100% release,” ISNW placed Romero on unpaid leave, then fired her on January 21, 2020.

The EEOC charges these actions by ISNW violated the ADA. “Ms. Romero simply asked to return to work using an upright vacuum, equipment already used by other employees. Instead, ISNW chose to fire her,” said Elizabeth Cannon, director of EEOC’s Seattle Field Office. “Under the ADA, an employer cannot deny an employee with a disability the opportunity to work when there is a readily available accommodation that would allow her to perform her job.”

After attempting to negotiate a settlement failed, the EEOC filed its lawsuit, EEOC v. Innovative Services NW, Civil Number 2:23-CV-00295, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington seeking back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief designed to prevent similar discrimination in the future. If the EEOC prevails ISNW can expect to be ordered to pay attorneys’s fees as well.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297

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About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 35+ years of workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, scholarship and thought leadership.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Vice Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with HHS-OCR, past chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 35 year career has focused heavily on working with employer and other staffing and workforce organizations, health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns. As an ongoing component of this work, she regularly advises, represents and defends businesses on FLSA, CAS, SCA, Davis-Bacon, Equal Pay Act and other wage and hour, compensation and benefit and other Human Resources, Guideline Program and other compliance, risk management and other internal and external controls in a wide range of areas and has published and spoken extensively on these concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on workforce, compensation, and other operations, risk management, compliance and regulatory and public affairs concerns.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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