ENID, Okla. — Black Forest Décor, LLC, a Jenks-based internet retailer specializing in cabin décor that has a warehouse in Enid, will pay $55,000 to a fired worker to resolve a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, in February 2018, Barbara Berry, a worker in Black Forest’s Enid warehouse, notified the company she had a medical condition that likely was to require surgery in the coming month, but that her doctor had released her to work until her surgery. In response, Black Forest placed Berry on unpaid leave until her surgery because the company was afraid it would be liable if anything happened to her while working.
Although Berry kept Black Forest updated with details about her upcoming surgery, the company didn’t contact her again until three weeks later when it sent her a letter stating she was being fired for “excessive absences,” the EEOC charged.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against individuals because of disabilities, including forcing them to take unnecessary leave. The EEOC filed its lawsuit in September 2019 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The three-year consent decree settling the suit, entered by Judge Scott L. Palk, requires Black Forest to pay $55,000 in monetary damages to Berry and adopt policies and provide annual employee training to ensure compliance with the ADA. The decree further requires Black Forest to post an anti-discrimination notice and track denied accommodation requests and discharges for medical-related absences and report them to the EEOC.
“Where an employee with a disability is willing and able to work safely, an employer must treat her the same as it would any other employee who is likewise willing and able to work,” said Andrea G. Baran, the EEOC’s regional attorney in St. Louis. “Forcing an employee with a disability to take unpaid leave based on fear and speculation – and then firing her for using that leave – violates the ADA as well as common sense, logic and basic fairness.”
EEOC’s St. Louis District director, L. Jack Vasquez, Jr., added, “Disability discrimination in the workplace hurts everyone – employers and employees. We encourage workers who believe they’ve experienced discrimination because of disability to report that information to the EEOC.”
EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The St. Louis District Office oversees Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and a portion of southern Illinois.