Corizon, like many private prison operators and contractors, has been the subject of vigorous litigation for years.
Two companies that work as medical contractors for prisons across the United States have agreed to pay $950,000 to settle allegations that they discriminated against employees with disabilities.
The Associated Press reports that the companies—Corizon Health Inc. and Corizon LLC—were accused of keeping disabled employees out of the workplace until they’d fully recovered, then firing them when they couldn’t meet return deadlines or performance expectations.
Both companies were found in violation of federal law by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, often referred to by its acronym, the EEOC. In some cases, disabled employees were fired after exhausting their 30-day medical leave.
Corizon, notes JDSupra, ‘repeatedly failed to accommodate employees,’ not considering alternatives to termination like reassignment and unpaid leave.
Employees who did return to their posts weren’t offered fair accommodations for continued health issues or chronic disabilities. In some instances, says the EEOC, workers faced significant hostility, ranging from managerial retaliation to being passed over for promotions.
Along with having to shell out just under $1 million, both Corizons will have to train employees on the American With Disabilities Act, conduct internal policy reviews and, if necessary, make adjustments to ensure that disabled workers and job applicants have access to equitable employment opportunities.
Under the consent degree signed by Phoenix-based Judge Douglas L. Rayes, the companies’ $950,000 payment will be disbursed among 23 individuals. Each of the employees were identified by the EEOC as having suffered harm as a consequence of Corizon’s discriminatory practices.
EEOC Phoenix District Office Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill was quoted in the commission’s press release as suggesting that discrimination against persons with disabilities is a growing problem.
“We are very concerned that so many employers violate the ADA with discriminatory policies,” O’Neill said. “Employers need to consider additional unpaid leave and reassignment as reasonable accommodations when an employee is unable to do their job even with reasonable accommodations.
“We look forward to Corizon taking significant steps under this decree to better protect the rights of employees with disabilities.”
Elizabeth Cadle, district director of the EEOC in Phoenix, added that policies which require an employee to be in 100% good health—like Corizon’s—aren’t legal and are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Employers should understand that that policies which require an employee to be 100% or without any medical restrictions violate the ADA because they don’t leave room for reasonable accommodations,” Cadle said. “Employers should also remember that leave policies must be administered consistent with the need to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities. We continue to see many employers with these problematic policies.”
Corizon has been repeatedly sued by employees and inmates under its care—in 2017, a woman formerly employed with the company sued after it fired her for reporting inadequate health practices at a New Mexico jail.