After being accused of disability discrimination, Black Forest Décor, LLC has agreed to pay a former employee $55,000.
Black Forest Décor, LLC, an internet retailer that specializes in cabin décor, recently agreed to pay $55,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee, Barbara Berry, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
According to the lawsuit, Berry was working at the company’s Enid warehouse in February 2018 when she informed the company “she had a medical condition that likely was to require surgery in the coming month, but that her doctor had released her to work until her surgery.” Seems simple enough, right? Well, in response, Black Forest “placed Berry on unpaid leave until her surgery because the company was afraid it would be liable if anything happened to her while working.” During that time, Berry kept the company updated on her upcoming surgery. However, Black Forest didn’t reach out to her for three weeks “when it sent her a letter stating she was being fired for excessive absences,” according to the suit.
According to the EEOC, such conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which “prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against individuals because of disabilities, including forcing them to take unnecessary leave.” The lawsuit itself was filed in September 2019 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. Before filing the suit, the agency attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process, but those efforts failed.
In addition to the $55,000 in monetary damages that Black Forest must pay to Berry, the company must also “adopt policies and provide annual employee training to ensure compliance with the ADA.” Additionally, the agreement requires “Black Forest to post an anti-discrimination notice and track denied accommodation requests and discharges for medical-related absences and report them to the EEOC.” When commenting on the suit, Andrea G. Baran, the EEOC’s regional attorney in St. Louis, said:
“Where an employee with a disability is willing and able to work safely, an employer must treat her the same as it would any other employee who is likewise willing and able to work. Forcing an employee with a disability to take unpaid leave based on fear and speculation – and then firing her for using that leave – violates the ADA as well as common sense, logic and basic fairness.”
EEOC’s St. Louis District director, L. Jack Vasquez, Jr., also chimed in on the matter and said:
“Disability discrimination in the workplace hurts everyone – employers and employees. We encourage workers who believe they’ve experienced discrimination because of disability to report that information to the EEOC.”