The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Catonsville, MD-based Erickson Living, saying the company violated federal law when it fired a director because she opposed perceived disability-based discrimination against an employee who reported to her.
In a statement to McKnight’s Senior Living, Erickson said: “While we deny the allegations raised in this case, we are not commenting further on this pending litigation. It’s important to note that Erickson Living is committed to non-discrimination in all terms, conditions, privileges and benefits of employment. This is reflected in its policy of non-discrimination with employees and applicants for positions, which also applies to all employment practices.”
Erickson is the sixth largest senior living operator in the country, according to 2018 lists by Argentum and the American Seniors Housing Association. The company is No. 22 on the ASHA 50 list of largest senior living community owners for 2018.
According to the complaint, in December 2016, Erickson’s director of health services, talent development and global programs complained to a human resources representative that the company had mistreated her subordinate because of manifestations of the employee’s disabilities. The director also expressed concerns that she would be retaliated against for reporting what she believed was discriminatory misuse of the company’s performance management system, the EEOC said.
In January 2017, according to the lawsuit, Erickson terminated the employment of the director and her subordinate due to what they were told was a restructuring. The director and her subordinate were the only two employees whose employment was terminated because of the purported restructuring, according to the EECO. The commission charged that the alleged restructuring was a pretext.
The alleged conduct would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for opposing workplace discrimination or for filing a charge with the EEOC. The EEOC said it filed the lawsuit after unsuccessfully trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement with Erickson.
“This case should remind all employers to investigate internal complaints of discrimination and not retaliate against those brave enough to oppose perceived discrimination,” EEOC Philadelphia District Director Jamie R. Williamson said.
Through the lawsuit, announced Friday, the director is seeking back pay and compensation for job search expenses as well as damages.