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EEOC Settles Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Alleging Employee Was Not Allowed To Use A Chair While Working

office chair in empty room

Having represented the victims of employment discrimination for almost twenty years, our Alachua County, Florida employment discrimination lawyers have learned that employers still continue to resist providing disabled employees with a reasonable accommodation for their disability. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of disability. Discrimination under the ADA includes not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental disabilities of an employee with a disability. Thus, disabled employees can bring a lawsuit pursuant to the ADA when their employers fail to reasonably accommodate their disability. A reasonable accommodation includes job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, and an allowance of time for medical care or treatment.

In a press release issued on May 30, 2019, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it has entered into a Consent Decree to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC against Grand Hyatt New York (Grand Hyatt). On August 16, 2018, the EEOC filed the lawsuit, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Grand Hyatt New York, Inc., Case No. 1:18-cv-7374, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York after initially attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its statutorily mandated conciliation process. The EEOC brought the disability discrimination lawsuit on behalf of an employee of Grand Hyatt, Christopher Theofanis (Theofanis). In this article, our Alachua County, Florida employment discrimination lawyers explain the EEOC’s allegations against Grand Hyatt and the Consent Decree.

EEOC’S Allegations Of Failure To Accommodate

In October 2013, Theofanis began working for Grand Hyatt as a front desk agent. In this position, Theofanis registers guests, communicates hotel services, processes forms of payment, and responds to guest inquiries. Theofanis has a disability within the meaning of the ADA in the form of an impairment to his spine that substantially limits him in standing. Prolonged standing aggravates Theofanis’ back condition and causes pain.

In July 2017, Theofanis requested that Grand Hyatt provide him with a reasonable accommodation for his disability by allowing him to sit on a chair while working at the front desk. In connection with his request for an accommodation, Theofanis submitted a doctor’s note recommending the use of the chair while working at the front desk and stating that it would alleviate pressure on Theofanis’ back. For approximately two weeks, Grand Hyatt permitted Theofanis to use a chair while working at the front desk. The EEOC claims that allowing Theofanis to use a chair during the two-week period alleviated Theofanis’ back pain and did not interfere with Theofanis’ performance of his job duties.

After those two weeks, Grand Hyatt stopped allowing Theofanis to sit and required him to resume standing while working. Theofanis opposed Grand Hyatt’s decision and notified Grand Hyatt that working while standing caused him significant pain. As a result of Grand Hyatt’s failure to accommodate his disability, Theofanis was required to take unpaid leave from work in order to recover from the physical pain caused by standing. The EEOC claims that Grand Hyatt violated the ADA by failing to provide Theofanis with a reasonable accommodation for his disability by allowing him to use a chair while working at the front desk.

Consent Decree Settling Discrimination Lawsuit

In the Consent Decree settling the lawsuit, which was submitted to the U.S. District Judge on May 23, 2019, Grand Hyatt agreed to pay $85,000 to Theofanis, along with paid leave worth approximately $15,000, in order to resolve the disability discrimination claim. In the Consent Decree, Grand Hyatt also agreed to develop and implement a written policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, including a statement in the policy informing employees that they may request a reasonable accommodation for their disability. Grand Hyatt further agreed to provide training on the ADA to all employees, with a special emphasis on employees’ right to request reasonable accommodations. The EEOC also required Grand Hyatt to provide the EEOC, for a two-year period, with information regarding employee complaints of disability discrimination, including the name of the employee who complained, the date of the complaint, a description of the complaint, and a description of the outcome of the complaint. 

EEOC Protects Employees With Disabilities

The EEOC is the administrative agency of the United States responsible for interpreting and enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. In enforcing the federal anti-discrimination laws, the EEOC is also authorized by federal law to bring lawsuits on behalf of victims of employment discrimination, including disability discrimination. In a press release issued by the EEOC regarding the case, the Director for the EEOC’s New York District Office, Kevin Berry, stated that “[f]ederal law on disability accommodation is very clear—employers must provide a reasonable accommodation so long as it does not cause an undue burden.” “Something as simple as providing a chair for an employee working at a desk,” Mr. Berry added, “is rarely burdensome.” In commenting on the case, a Regional Attorney for the EEOC, Jeffrey Burnstein, stated that the “EEOC remains committed to protecting the rights of people with disabilities, through litigation when necessary, so that employees with disabilities can work effectively and with dignity.”

Free Consultation With Gainesville Labor Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we have represented employment discrimination victims in hundreds of cases before the EEOC. If you have been denied a reasonable accommodation for a disability or have questions about your right to a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Alachua County, Florida employment attorneys. Our employment and labor law attorneys take employment discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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