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EEOC ramps up enforcement of the ADA

The EEOC has commenced a suit against food retailer King
Soopers for firing a bipolar worker in violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act. The EEOC is alleging the company refused to accommodate and
unlawfully fired a receptionist at its headquarters. Although employment
discrimination suits based on mental illness are less common than Title VII
challenges, the EEOC has recently begun to put more emphasis on bringing ADA
cases to trial.

The EEOC alleges King Soopers fired their receptionist after
she took medical leave to manage a “flare-up” with her bipolar disorder. Although
King Soopers had a medical leave policy of 18 months, the receptionist was
fired after 5 months of failing to report to work. This follows a December 2011
settlement between the EEOC and King Soopers where the company had to pay
$80,000 for discriminating against a mentally challenged worker. As part of the
settlement King Soopers was supposed to provide increased training to employees
on how to follow the ADA and interact with staff who have mental disabilities-
it doesn’t look as if they took the message to heart.

Bipolar disorder is a common disability, and one
that affects almost 6 million Americans. The EEOC claims that bipolar disorder
is often misunderstood by employers and that that lack of understanding leads
to discrimination in the workplace. This case could represent the second
bipolar discrimination case to go to trial this year following the EEOC’s
victory against Cottonwood Financial. Employers should always take care to make
sure their discrimination policies account for mental as well as physical
disabilities, and employees with potential cases of discrimination should
consult with an attorney to protect their rights in the workplace.