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M&T Bank Sued by EEOC for Disability Discrimination at Hudson City Savings Bank

Predecessor Bank Refused to Accommodate Bank Branch Employees' Disabilities and Put Them on Involuntary Leave, Federal Agency Charges

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against Buffalo, N.Y.-based M&T Bank, charging the company with numerous violations of federal disability discrimination law. The EEOC said the violations were committed by Hudson City Savings Bank (HCSB), which was merged into M&T Bank in 2015.

In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged that HCSB failed to accommodate bank branch employees who notified the bank of a disability or a need for accommodation and that HCSB instead required them to either provide a certification from a medical provider stating that they could work with "no restrictions" or else be placed on leave. Employees who did not provide a clearance soon enough were discharged. For example, when a bank teller in Harrison, N.Y., was diagnosed with Achilles tendonitis and bone spurs and prescribed a cam walker boot, the bank required her to take involuntary leave instead of simply permitting her to wear the boot at work. When her condition did not improve quickly, the bank terminated her, even though she could have easily performed her job wearing the boot. Other employees in HCSB branches in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut were treated similarly, the EEOC said.

Such conduct violates Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities, and prohibits employers from discriminating against such people.

The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (EEOC v. M&T Bank Corporation, Civil Action No. 7:17-cv-05077, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settle­ment through its conciliation process. The agency's litigation effort will be led by Trial Attorneys Amos Blackman and Liane Rice, supervised by Supervisory Trial Attorney Justin Mulaire.

"The purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act is to ensure that qualified employees will not be prevented from earning a living because of unfounded assumptions about their disabilities," said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC's New York District. "Employers may not force emp­loyees who are perfectly capable of fulfilling their job duties to leave work because of their disabilities or demand medical certifications unrelated to their jobs as a condition of employment."

Kevin Berry, the EEOC's New York District director, added, "HCSB employees with medical conditions and disabilities knew about the bank's treatment of workers who needed accommodations, and some even avoided requesting them as a result. No American worker should have to be afraid of request­ing a reasonable accommodation for his or her disability."

Qualification standards and inflexible leave policies that discriminate against individuals with disabilities are an emerging and developing issue, which is one of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

The EEOC's New York District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in New York, northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.