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Settlement Victory: Terminated Employee Awarded $78,000 in EEOC Case

Employees returning to work after hospitalization or illness can present legally nuanced issues, especially if an employer considers terminating them shortly thereafter. DC Civil Lawyers are keenly aware of the risks highlighted in a recent EEOC settlement involving such a scenario.

According to an EEOC press release: “The EEOC charged in [a lawsuit] that, in February 2022, [a company] fired a long-tenured receptionist, despite having recognized the 78-year-old employee as one of its employees of the year in January 2022. The receptionist’s termination came shortly after a brief hospitalization. The EEOC alleged that upon the receptionist’s return to work, [the company’s] general manager asked her how long she planned to continue to work, whether she needed to work, and whether she would prefer to spend her time traveling and seeing family instead of working.

Although the receptionist expressed her desire to continue working, and despite having never previously raised substantial performance concerns to the receptionist, the general manager told the receptionist that [the company] had lost confidence in her ability to work, citing her recent hospitalization. The receptionist was fired the next day and replaced by substantially younger employees.”

The EEOC alleged that these actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). They noted that statements about “losing confidence” in the employee due to a hospitalization could be viewed as disability discrimination (the ADA defines “disability” very broadly), and the fact the employee was over the age of 40 and replaced with a younger employee could suggest age discrimination under the ADEA.

The company chose to settle the allegations. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to pay $78,000 to the terminated employee. Additionally, it entered into a two-year consent decree requiring it to revise its ADEA and ADA policies, post a notice in the workplace informing employees of the settlement, and train all employees and supervisors on their rights and responsibilities under both the ADEA and the ADA. The company also agreed to provide the EEOC with periodic reports regarding any future complaints of age or disability discrimination, including descriptions of each employee’s allegations and the company’s response.

DC Civil Lawyers emphasize that this case underscores the importance of carefully evaluating employee terminations concerning legal risks under various employment laws. By vetting such risks upfront, employers can mitigate potential legal complications later.

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