Home Depot U.S.A. Inc. will pay $100,000 to a part-time Towson cashier the retailer allegedly fired because she had cancer, under a settlement the company reached last week with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The EEOC claimed the home improvement store violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide reasonable accommodation for Judy Henderson, who was terminated while on an unpaid medical leave for cancer treatments in 2010.
Home Depot denied any wrongdoing in agreeing to the consent decree filed in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
“The message is that the ADA applies to employees who currently are working and also need time off to heal so that they can get working again,” said Debra M. Lawrence, EEOC’s regional attorney for Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
“We’re seeing a lot of cases where, once an employee is out with a disability and intends to return, the employer doesn’t give them an opportunity,” she added. “The employer may be running afoul of the ADA.”
Atlanta-based Home Depot has continued to dispute the EEOC’s allegations.
“We wouldn’t terminate an associate for having a disability,” the company said in a statement.
“We disagree with the EEOC’s characterization of the events and do not believe we violated the law with respect to Ms. Henderson, as we have accommodated her on numerous occasions in different ways throughout her 13 years of employment — including providing her four and [a] half years of cumulative leave,” the statement said. “However, we’re pleased we have reached resolution on this issue. … [W]e do not tolerate discrimination on the basis of disability.”
Under the decree, Home Depot agreed to provide one hour of training on the Americans with Disabilities Act to all store managers and assistant store managers, as well as members of its human resources department. The training will include “special emphasis” on reasonable accommodations and the duty to communicate with employees on the accommodations they need, the agreement stated.
The company also agreed to post a notice of the consent decree, which will remain in effect for three years. The notice will be posted where employees and job applicants are likely to see it, informing them of their rights under the ADA and instructing them to report any violations to a supervisor or the EEOC.
Henderson had worked at Home Depot since 1997 and consistently received favorable performance reviews before July 2010, the EEOC alleged. That’s when she requested unpaid leave to undergo surgery to have a tumor removed, according to the complaint filed June 29.
Home Depot granted her leave but, on Sept. 27, 2010, informed Henderson that she would be fired if she did not tell the company of her status by Oct. 12, 2010, the complaint stated.
On Oct. 5, 2010, Henderson provided the company with medical documentation stating she could return to work on Oct. 25, 2010. However, Henderson later amended the restart date to Oct. 27, 2010, because she needed another medical procedure.
Home Depot did not respond to Henderson’s message, and hired a new cashier for the store on Oct. 15, 2010, the EEOC alleged.
The company fired Henderson on Oct. 26 — the day before she was to return — stating it had no work for her because of a seasonal slowdown, the EEOC stated.
Henderson, however, had not been fired during previous seasonal slowdowns, the agency added.
Home Depot’s intentional actions deprived Henderson of equal employment opportunities “and otherwise adversely affect her rights under the ADA resulting in emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, embarrassment, frustration, humiliation and loss of enjoyment of life,” the complaint stated.
Of the $100,000 payment to Henderson, $84,224 represents compensatory damages and $15,776 is for back pay, under the decree.
EEOC V. HOME DEPOT USA INC.
U.S. District Court, Baltimore
Ellen L. Hollander
Consent Decree with $100,000 for charging party ($84,224 in compensatory damages, $15,776 back pay) and injunctive relief.
Event: Oct. 26, 2010
Suit filed: June 29, 2012
Decree filed: Sept. 5, 2012
Debra M. Lawrence, Maria Salacuse and Eric S. Thompson of the EEOC in Baltimore
Donald R. Livingston of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP in Washington
Violation of Americans with Disabilities Act