EEOC Sues Call Center For Not Accommodating Account Rep Who Had Respiratory Conditions

Showing flexibility in accommodating an employee with a disability can go a long way toward avoiding confrontation with federal regulators.

Advanced Home Care, Inc., a North Carolina nonprofit corporation which operates a call support center in High Point, N.C., discriminated against a disabled employee when it failed to provide her an accommodation and then fired her, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to EEOC’s complaint, Elizabeth Pennell worked as a patient account representative at Advanced Home Care’s call center in High Point. In August 2015, Pennell, who has asthma, was hospitalized and diagnosed with chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Pennell’s respiratory conditions constitute a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When Pennell returned from medical leave related to her disability, she asked her supervisor, the revenue program manager, if she could telework as an accommodation for her disability. Among other things, Pennell needed to telework to avoid fragrances, scents, and odors that aggravate her respiratory conditions – all of which might be found at the High Point facility on any given day. By teleworking, Pennell would be protected from actual and potential respiratory irritants at that facility.

Between August and December 2015, Pennell asked her supervisor if she could telework on at least three separate occasions. Pennell’s request was never granted. Pennell was required to take medical leave because she could not work at that facility and the company would not allow her to telework. Ultimately Pennell was fired in January 2016 after exhausting her medical leave, the EEOC said.

Such alleged conduct violates the ADA, which protects employees from discrimination based on their disabilities. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, (EEOC v. Advanced Home Care, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:17-cv-00646) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.

“When a qualified employee with a disability is ready and willing to work, the employer has a legal duty to provide a reasonable accommodation to make that employment possible unless the employer can show undue hardship,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District. “Employers must be flexible in evaluating requests from their employees for reasonable accommodation.”

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