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Baltimore audiovisual firm settles EEOC disability bias claim

The Edward A. Garmatz United States Courthouse in Baltimore. (The Daily Record / Heather Cobun)

A Baltimore-based audio-video company agreed to a settlement with a sales administrator who was allegedly fired after her request to work remotely one day per week. Design & Integration Inc. reached an agreement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settling a lawsuit that it had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. (The Daily Record / file photo)

A Baltimore-based provider of audio-video services has agreed to pay $25,000 to a sales administrator the company allegedly fired after denying her request to work remotely one day per week to accommodate her anxiety and depression.

Design & Integration Inc.’s agreement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settles the agency’s lawsuit alleging the company had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act’s prohibition on job discrimination and the law’s requirement that employers make reasonable accommodations for the disabilities of employees and job applicants.

Design & Integration admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement, which U.S District Judge Ellen L. Hollander approved last week.

“The EEOC has long maintained that telework may be a reasonable accommodation and this past year certainly has demonstrated how employees remain productive while teleworking,” Jamie R. Williamson, EEOC’s Philadelphia district director, said in a statement announcing the settlement. “We hope this resolution encourages employers to be flexible when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation.”

Design & Integration’s attorney, Cynthia L. Maskol, did not immediately return telephone and email messages Thursday seeking comment on the settlement. Maskol is with Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP in Baltimore.

In its lawsuit, EEOC stated that permitting the sales administrator to work remotely would have imposed no “undue hardship” on the company, as many of its employees telework. The fired worker, Lina Lucifero, was told by Design & Integration management that she would not have been hired if the company knew of her anxiety and depression, EEOC alleged.

As a sales administrator, Lucifero’s duties included researching new projects via computer, reviewing online employment applications and conducting telephone interviews of job applicants, EEOC’s complaint stated.

On Sept.17, 2019, Lucifero asked the company to allow her to telework one day per week for the following three to four weeks due to her anxiety and depression. The “more relaxed environment” outside the office was needed to alleviate the mental health symptoms that had temporarily worsened, EEOC alleged.

Design & Integration rejected Lucifero’s request the following day and fired her, saying she never would have been hired had the company known of her mental illness, the agency added in its complaint.

Anxiety and depression qualify as disabilities under the ADA because they cause extreme sadness or fearfulness, which “interfere with the major life activities” of eating, sleeping and normal brain function, the agency stated.

Under the settlement, Design & Integration also agreed to require three hours of ADA training for all its supervisors and managers by an attorney with employment law experience. Design & Integration also agreed to submit to the EEOC annually for the next four years a report on all accommodations requested by employees, the nature of each accommodation and whether the accommodation was granted or denied.

“We appreciate that Design & Integration worked with us to resolve this case amicably and expeditiously,” Debra M. Lawrence, EEOC’s regional attorney, said in a statement. “In addition to the monetary relief to the worker, the policy changes will protect all workers from disability discrimination.”

The case was docketed at the U.S. District Court in Baltimore as U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Design & Integration Inc., No. 1:20-cv-02350-ELH.

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