EEOC Sues Wayne Farms for Disability Discrimination
Poultry Producer Failed to Accommodate Workers Who Needed Time Off Due to Disability, Federal Agency Charges
DECATUR, Ala. -Wayne Farms, LLC, one of the nation's largest poultry producers, illegally discriminated against a class of employees because of their disabilities, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed on August 18, 2016.
In its suit, EEOC charged that Wayne Farms violated the rights of a class of workers with disabilities by maintaining an inflexible attendance policy. The policy capped the number of allowable employee absences in a manner that made little to no allowance for disability-related absences. For example, the suit said that an employee, Latonya Hodges, provided medical excuses for absences related to her asthma, yet was fired upon reaching the maximum number of allowable absences.
Such alleged conduct violates Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandates that private employers provide reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities, absent undue hardship, and prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities.
EEOC filed its lawsuit against Wayne Farms, EEOC v. Wayne Farms, LLC, Case No. 5:16-cv-01347-HGD, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. EEOC seeks a court order requiring Wayne Farms to comply with the ADA and barring the company from applying its attendance policy to disabled employees who require additional medical leave as a reasonable accommodation. In addition, EEOC seeks lost wages and benefits, compensatory and punitive damages, and other relief for victims and the public.
"The ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations, including time off, to workers with disabilities," said Delner-Franklin Thomas, district director of EEOC's Birmingham District Office, which has jurisdiction over Alabama, portions of Mississippi and Florida. "Attendance policies that categorically limit an employee's absences, without consideration of the individual circumstances of disabled employees, can run afoul of federal law."
EEOC Birmingham Regional Attorney C. Emanuel Smith added, "The goal of the ADA is to lower barriers to employment faced by persons with disabilities. EEOC will continue to take action against companies that arbitrarily refuse to provide reasonable accommodation and, in the process, deprive persons with disabilities of the opportunity to provide for their families."
According to company information, Wayne Farms, LLC is one of the largest vertically integrated poultry producers in the United States, owning and operating 11 facilities throughout the Southeast, including Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia.
One of the six national priorities identified by EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the agency to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA.
EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov