EEOC settles with Wal-Mart over firing of worker with a disability covered by ADA

August 29, 2012

Wal-Mart paid up to settle a claim after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged the big-box retailer had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it fired one of its employees rather than accommodate her request for periodic breaks off her feet when she returned from a medical leave. The retailer says that the manager that refused the accommodation request no longer works for Wal-Mart and that this was an “unfortunate, isolated incident,” according to a report in Managers at the store will also be required to take annual ADA trainings as a part of the settlement.

At issue: Federal regs that clarified treatment of cerebral palsy as substantially limiting impairment

In this case, the employee had cerebral palsy, an impairment that is covered under the ADA and she requested an accommodation for her disability before she was fired. In a statement after the settlement, a regional attorney for the EEOC warned employers that they need to get current on the ADA as recent federal regulations have clarified the law’s scope. The EEOC’s attorney was alluding to the fact that in 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published final regulations to implement the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 — legislation that substantially expanded coverage of the ADA to further the ADA’s purpose of preventing discrimination against persons with disabilities.

When Congress passed the ADAAA, it directed the EEOC to create regulations consistent with the ADAAA. The EEOC did so, and one point of emphasis in the final regulations is that the EEOC did not define “substantially limits,” an important element of the ADA that courts had interpreted narrowly before the ADAAA’s passage. Rather than defining the term, the EEOC created rules of construction and predictable assessments to provide a “consistent framework” for those seeking protection and those with duties under the ADAAA. According to the EEOC, this guidance should help all involved focus on the issue at hand: making reasonable accommodations and preventing discrimination.

Employers take note — EEOC is enforcing compliance of the ADAAA regulations

After Wal-Mart’s settlement with the EEOC, employers should be on notice of the expanded scope of ADA coverage. Generally, the ADA and corresponding federal regulations apply to employers with 15 or more employees in each day of 20 or more calendar weeks in one year. Covered employers may have a duty not to discriminate in hiring, to provide reasonable accommodations to covered employees that request them, and other duties under the ADA. Business owners, managers and human resources professionals should be aware of the changes that these federal regulations have brought to ADA compliance and take steps in policy and action to comply with the law.