EEOC Sues Ford Motor Company For Disability Discrimination

On August 26, 2011, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed a civil action against Ford Motor Company on behalf of a former employee, alleging that the company failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to the employee and ultimately fired her because of her disability.
The company maintained a telecommuting program for its employees. When the employee, Jane Harris, attempted to avail herself of the program as a result of her gastro-intestinal condition, the company refused her request. Thereafter, the company began criticizing her performance, placed her on a performance plan, and fired her after she complained that the company had failed to accommodate her medical condition.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to its disabled employee if such would permit the otherwise disabled employee to perform the essential functions of the job. In this case, if the EEOC can show that the telecommuting program existed, which would indicate that it would not be unreasonable for a disabled employee to utilize it, then the company could face liability for refusing the employee’s request.
In addition to the federal ADA, many states have statutes that cover disability discrimination. Both New York State and New York City have statutes that prohibit disability discrimination in employment. In many instances, the laws of New York State and New York City are broader in their coverage and extend protection to conditions that might not otherwise qualify as a disability under the ADA.

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