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Payday: Terminated Employee Awarded $78,000 in EEOC Settlement

Employees returning to work following a hospitalization or illness can present legally nuanced issues, particularly if an employer is considering terminating an employee in close proximity to such a leave. A recent case settled by a company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) highlights some of the legal risks that can come into play.

According to an EEOC press release: “The EEOC charged in [a lawsuit] that, in February 2022, [a company] fired a long-tenured receptionist, despite having recognized the 78-year-old employee as one of its employees of the year in January 2022. The receptionist’s termination came shortly after a brief hospitalization. The EEOC alleged that upon the receptionist’s return to work, [the company’s] general manager asked her how long she planned to continue to work, whether she needed to work, and whether she would prefer to spend her time traveling and seeing family instead of working.

Although the receptionist expressed her desire to continue working, and despite having never previously raised substantial performance concerns to the receptionist, the general manager told the receptionist that [the company] had lost confidence in her ability to work, citing her recent hospitalization. The receptionist was fired the next day and replaced by substantially younger employees.”

The EEOC alleged that these actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), noting the alleged statements about “losing confidence” in the employee due to a hospitalization could be viewed as disability discrimination (the ADA defines “disability” very broadly), and the fact the employee was over the age of 40 (i.e., in the protected age group) and replaced with a younger employee could give rise to an inference of age discrimination under the ADEA.

The company elected to settle the allegations. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to pay $78,000 to the terminated employee. In addition, it entered into a two-year consent decree that also requires it to “revise its ADEA and ADA policies, post a notice in the workplace informing employees of the settlement, and train all employees and supervisors on their rights and responsibilities under both the ADEA and the ADA. Moreover, the company agreed to provide the EEOC with periodic reports regarding any future complaints of age or disability discrimination including a description of each employee’s allegations and the company’s response.”

Accordingly, this case serves as an important reminder that employee terminations should be carefully evaluated with respect to legal risks under various employment laws. Vetting such risks on the front end may mitigate pain on the back end.

© 2024 BARNES & THORNBURG LLP

The post Payday: Terminated Employee Awarded $78,000 in EEOC Settlement appeared first on The National Law Forum.