The EEOC sued an Illinois employer in federal court last week. While employers should always pay attention when the EEOC actually steps into the ring, this suit is particularly interesting for two reasons. The suit does not involve one of the agency’s “headline” issues like transgender discrimination or criminal background checks, and the targeted employer is not a nationally-known company like CVS or Coca-Cola. Rather, the EEOC is targeting a small casino in the Chicago suburbs over an issue that many employers overlook the importance of: leave of absence policies.
In the case of EEOC v. Midwest Gaming and Entertainment LLC (Case No. 1:17-cv-06811, N.D. Ill. 2017), the Commission alleges the casino terminated one of its slot technicians in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The employee had cancer, and had been approved to take a leave of absence through January 2016. He was unable to return at that time, however, and asked for a two-month extension until March because he needed another surgery.
Instead of granting the time off, the casino terminated the worker. The EEOC seeks back pay, punitive damages, an injunction preventing similar firings, and reinstatement.
Under the ADA, employers of 15 or more employees are required not only to refrain from discriminating against qualified workers with disabilities, but they also must offer reasonable accommodations to such workers (unless it would cause an undue hardship on their business). One accommodation that the courts have routinely found to be reasonable is an extended leave of absence. This includes an extension beyond the employer’s normal leave of absence policies and beyond any leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The Midwest Gaming case is a salient reminder to employers to think twice and be extremely cautious when a disabled employee requests additional time off from work due to his or her medical condition. Any such request should be carefully considered, and any inclination to terminate the employee should certainly be vetted with qualified legal counsel.