The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued this news release Friday:
Wayne Farms, LLC, one of the nation’s largest poultry producers, will pay $175,000 and furnish significant equitable relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
In its suit, the EEOC charged that Wayne Farms violated the rights of a class of workers with disabilities at its Decatur, Ala., facilities by maintaining an attendance policy that capped the number of allowable absences regardless of whether the absence was due to a disability. Employees who provided medical documentation or excuses for their disability-related absences were fired upon reaching a maximum number of absences, the EEOC said.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which, among other things, requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities unless the employer would suffer undue hardship as a result. The EEOC filed its lawsuit (EEOC v. Wayne Farms, LLC, Case No. 5:16-cv-01347-MHH) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The two-year consent decree settling the suit, in addition to monetary relief, prohibits Wayne Farms, LLC from discriminating based on disability and requires the company to revise its written attendance policy to accommodate absences related to an ADA disability. Wayne Farms will be required to provide a copy of its revised attendance policy to each plant employee in English and Spanish, post its revised policy in every break room at its Decatur facilities, and provide ADA training to its human resources staff and department managers.
“Federal laws protect employees who have conditions that meet the ADA’s definition of disability,” said Bradley Anderson, district director of the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office. “The EEOC will continue to vigorously enforce all aspects of the ADA’s employment provisions, including its prohibition against policies that screen out employees with disabilities.”
Marsha Rucker, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office, added, “The ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities. The EEOC stands ready to assist any employee who believes he or she is the victim of employment discrimination because of a disability or any other prohibited basis.”
Wayne Farms, headquartered in Oakwood, Ga., owns and operates 11 facilities throughout the Southeast, including in Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia.