A senior living operator violated the American with Disabilities Act when it did not accommodate a new employee’s request for a medical leave of absence, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged in a lawsuit filed Friday.
According to the complaint, Meeka Henderson was a new chef at Enlivant’s North Brook Place senior living community in McKinney, TX, in September 2016 when she told her employer that she had a medical condition that would require surgery — a hysterectomy — the following April. “She reiterated her request for an accommodation on multiple occasions from September 2016 through March 2017,” the complaint stated.
Henderson’s direct supervisor approved her request, and she began a medical leave on March 29, 2017, according to the EEOC. One day before the surgery, however, Enlivant’s human resources department allegedly contacted her and said that if Henderson did not return to work by April 30, 2017, then her employment would be terminated.
“Henderson was further told that she did not qualify for any federal or state protections and that for all medical leaves of absence, employees were required to provide a return-to-work release, with no restrictions, from their physician prior to the start of their first shift,” the complaint stated.
Henderson underwent the surgery and provided Enlivant with a physician’s letter stating that she would not be able to return to work until May 20, 2017, according to the EEOC. “Enlivant denied this requested accommodation and instead, terminated Henderson’s employment on April 30, 2017,” the commission said.
The alleged conduct violates the ADA, the EEOC said, because the law protects employees from discrimination based on their disabilities and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ disabilities.
“Specifically, Defendant discriminated against Meeka Henderson by failing or refusing to provide Henderson with the reasonable accommodation of a medical leave of absence for a reasonable period of time, and by requiring her to produce a full medical release with no restrictions as a condition of being allowed to return to work,” the complaint stated.
The EEOC said it sued Enlivant after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The commission is seeking lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages for Henderson and a requirement that Enlivant create policies to prevent disability discrimination in the future.
A representative of Enlivant told McKnight’s Senior Living that the company was not able to comment because the litigation is pending. The company no longer operates the community at which the violation is alleged to have occurred.