Several years ago, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the nation’s anti-discrimination laws, filed suit against AutoZone, Inc., accusing the auto parts retailer of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by allegedly firing employees who took too much time off for disability-related absences. According to the complaint, AutoZone failed “To make exceptions to a ‘no fault’ attendance policy for their [employee’s] disability-related absences, and discharged them as a result.” The case is still pending before a federal judge in Illinois, but it reflects a broader trend on the part of the EEOC.
In recent years, the EEOC has focused intensely on employers’ leave policies — alleging that many companies’ leave policies violate the ADA, and filing numerous lawsuits over the past several years. In a press release following a large settlement with Verizon Wireless for $20 million, the EEOC stated, “An inflexible leave policy may deny workers with disabilities a reasonable accommodation to which they’re entitled by law — with devastating effects.” Similar settlements the agency has reached include: Pactiv LLC for $1.7 million, Interstate Distributor for $4.85 million, Supervalu for $3.2 million, and Sears for $6.2 million. And in the EEOC’s most updated Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), the agency makes clear that it intends to continue to police employers’ leave policies.