As a small or midsize business owner, it is essential to understand and comply with employment laws to avoid potential penalties and legal complications. A recent settlement involving Sanderson Farms serves as a reminder of the consequences of disability discrimination in the workplace.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against the company for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with a cluster headache and migraine condition. By being aware of the penalties associated with disability discrimination, business owners can create an inclusive work environment and prevent legal repercussions.
The Lawsuit and Allegations
Sanderson Farms, LLC and Sanderson Farms, LLC (Processing Division), divisions of a major chicken products producer, have agreed to pay $62,384 and implement significant equitable relief as part of the settlement reached with the EEOC. The lawsuit stemmed from the termination of a long-term disabled employee at their processing plant in Summit, Mississippi.
The EEOC alleged that the companies unlawfully refused to discuss the employee’s request for accommodation, sent him home pending further discipline, and ultimately fired him due to his disability and in retaliation for seeking accommodation.
Violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The alleged conduct by Sanderson Farms violated the ADA, which protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, unless it causes undue hardship. Retaliation against an employee who requests a reasonable accommodation is also prohibited by law.
Settlement Terms and Compliance Measures
In addition to the monetary settlement, the two-year consent decree includes several provisions to prevent future discrimination. Sanderson Farms is required to revise its ADA policy against employment discrimination, provide training on the ADA to employees at the Summit facility, and prominently display the revised ADA policy in English and Spanish in break rooms.
The EEOC will monitor the companies’ compliance with these measures throughout the duration of the decree.
Importance of Compliance and Employee Rights
The ADA recognizes the valuable contributions individuals with disabilities can make in the workforce. It is illegal for employers to terminate an employee due to their disability or for seeking reasonable accommodation.
Small and midsize business owners must be aware of their obligations under the ADA and take proactive steps to protect the rights of employees with disabilities.
Complying with employment laws, particularly those pertaining to disability discrimination, is crucial for small and midsize business owners. The settlement reached with Sanderson Farms serves as a reminder that disability discrimination carries significant consequences, including financial penalties and reputational damage.
By fostering an inclusive workplace environment, providing reasonable accommodations, and respecting the rights of employees with disabilities, business owners can not only avoid legal complications but also promote a diverse and thriving workforce.
The EEOC remains committed to enforcing the ADA and holding employers accountable for violations, ensuring that all individuals have equal opportunities to earn a living.