The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission yesterday sued Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) for disability discrimination, alleging that the company illegally fired a South Carolina employee because of a disability.
April Jackson worked as a temporary forklift driver at a Medtronic facility in Greenwood, S.C., from Oct. 3, 2016, until she was fired Feb. 10, 2017, according to the EEOC lawsuit. Jackson, who has congenital abnormalities including the absence of one kidney and an under-formed, dysfunctional bladder, missed several of her night shifts after seeking medical treatment Feb. 6 for health issues stemming from her condition, the suit alleged.
Medtronic fired her over the absences, despite a doctor’s note excusing Jackson from work for three days, the EEOC alleged.
“Despite Jackson’s doctor’s instruction not to return to work, Jackson, who worked the night shift, timely reported for work at or around midnight on the evening of Feb. 6, 2017. Jackson attempted to work her full shift but left early due to her disability,” according to the complaint, filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for South Carolina. “[P]rior to leaving her shift early, Jackson provided her shift supervisor, an employee of defendant, with two copies of the doctor’s note excusing Jackson from work until Feb. 9, 2017. Jackson requested that her supervisor provide a copy of the note to defendant’s human resources department once human resources arrived for the day.
“The absences that resulted in Jackson’s alleged violation of defendant’s attendance policy were, with one exception, due to Jackson’s disability,” the EEOC alleged, adding that a request by Jackson’s employment agency that Medtronic reconsider in light of her disability and her doctor’s note was ignored. The agency also alleged that Medtronic didn’t hire Jackson as a permanent employee due to her disability, “despite being in the process of doing so prior to her termination.”
The commission said it attempted to negotiate a remedy with Medtronic but was “unable to secure from defendant a conciliation agreement acceptable to the commission,” according to the complaint, which alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The EEOC suit seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for Jackson, plus permanent injunctions barring further disability-based discrimination and mandating that Medtronic establish equal opportunity practices for the disabled.
“Not only does the ADA protect employees, including temporary employees, from disability discrimination in the workplace, it places an affirmative requirement on employers to explore accommodations to their generally applicable employment policies, such as attendance policies,” EEOC regional attorney for the Charlotte district office Lynette Barnes said in prepared remarks. “An employer simply cannot ignore an employee’s need for a reasonable accommodation of a disability, choosing instead to fire the employee.”
Medtronic did not respond to a request for comment.