Is Diabetes a Protected Disability, and Are Additional Rest Breaks a Reasonable Accommodation?
Having battled employers who engage in discriminatory employment practices for more than twenty years, our labor lawyers in Citrus County have learned that employers often deny even the smallest accommodations to employees with disabilities. Despite their legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodation, many companies simply ignore the needs of their workers in order to avoid the most minor inconvenience or loss of profit. If you suffer from a disability and your request is reasonable, your employer cannot simply ignore you and violate your rights.
The United Parcel Service (UPS) recently learned this lesson the hard way. A Florida federal court ruled that UPS violated the rights of an employee with diabetes by refusing reasonable accommodation and ultimately firing the employee. The court’s ruling in EOC v. United Parcel Service, Inc., Case No. 3:21-cv-00656-BJD-JRK (M.D. Fl. Mar. 20, 2023) is a reminder of the importance of reasonable accommodation and the dangers of unlawful retaliation.
UPS Found Guilty of Discriminating Against Employee With Diabetes
In June 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against UPS alleging that the company had engaged in unlawful disability discrimination against one of its employees in violation of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). According to the EEOC, the employee in question suffered from erratic or brittle diabetes, requiring him to wear an insulin pump with a continuous glucose monitor. The employee was able to perform the essential functions of his job as a preloader, and in fact, did so for at least two shifts before his untimely termination. He worked at a UPS warehouse located in Jacksonville.
Per the EEOC’s complaint, the employee had asked a UPS human resources supervisor for a very sensible accommodation: an occasional short break to check his blood sugar and, should the need arise, have a quick drink or snack. Rather than help the employee or grant the request, the HR supervisor referred to the employee as a “liability,” claiming that he could not do his job because of his diabetes. After only the worker’s second shift, the HR supervisor called the employee and left a voicemail informing him that he was being terminated.
The ADA requires employers to provide disabled workers with reasonable accommodation. So long an employee could perform the essential functions of their job with accommodation, and that accommodation would not pose an undue hardship on the employer (such as an exorbitant cost), the employer must provide the accommodation. Allowing for additional rest breaks throughout the day is a quintessential “reasonable accommodation” that requires very little sacrifice by the employer.
Here, after the matter could not be resolved through informal pre-litigation negotiations, the EEOC brought suit against UPS on behalf of the employee. The EEOC later moved for summary judgment. The federal court agreed with the EEOC’s argument that the company’s conduct constituted unlawful disability discrimination as a matter of law.
The court agreed that UPS unlawfully failed to provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation necessary to perform the job and that his termination was likewise unlawful. The court also agreed that comments and conduct from the employee’s supervisor and the HR supervisor provided direct evidence of UPS’s intent to discriminate. Per the court: “Instead of working with [the employee] or trying to accommodate him, UPS classified him as a liability, berated him, and remarked that [the employee] placed himself and UPS’s equipment in danger.”
The court granted summary judgment in favor of the EEOC, ruling that UPS’s conduct was illegal per the ADA. The case will proceed to determine what monetary damages UPS owes the employee for their actions.
Citrus County, Florida Disability Discrimination Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida, and representing workers throughout Florida, our labor law attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of employment discrimination victims. If you are a victim of disability discrimination or have questions about your rights under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our labor law lawyers in Citrus County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes disability 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.