Amazon Sued by Worker Who Needed Injections for Heart Valve

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By Patrick Dorrian

Amazon Inc. and two related companies failed to accommodate and then fired a worker at a California warehouse who needed breaks to self-administer injections for his mechanical heart valve, a federal lawsuit charged ( Socarras v. Golden State FC LLC , N.D. Cal., No. 3:17-cv-02322, complaint filed 4/25/17 ).

Francisco Socarras says he was fired in April 2016, a few days after returning from a second medical leave to deal with complications related to his valve. That followed a first medical leave in approximately March 2015 for his valve replacement surgery, he alleges in the lawsuit filed April 25 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Human resources told him he was terminated because his second leave wasn’t approved, Socarras’ complaint asserts. But Amazon’s leave of absence and accommodations department had approved his leave request over the phone and two managers had also told him his leave was approved, he says.

Amazon didn’t respond April 26 to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.

Providing Leave as Accomodation

If Socarras’ allegations are true, Amazon’s handling of his situation may conflict with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s position that employers shouldn’t deny or unlawfully restrict the use of leave as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The federal employment rights watchdog reaffirmed its view in a May 2016 resource document. Providing leave as an accommodation, when doing so will enable the employee to return to work afterward, is consistent with the general aim of the law’s accommodation provision, according to the EEOC. That aim is to force companies to change the way they customarily do things to enable employees with disabilities to work, it said.

An employer isn’t required to provide paid leave beyond what it provides under its paid leave policy, the EEOC says. But it must consider providing unpaid leave to an employee with a disability as a reasonable accommodation if the worker needs it and doing so wouldn’t impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business, the agency says.

Socarras says in his complaint against Amazon, Amazon Fulfillment Services Inc. and Golden State FC LLC that granting him a short unpaid leave of absence in April 2016 wouldn’t have imposed an undue hardship on the companies’ business. The latter two entities are subsidiaries of or are partly or wholly owned by Amazon, he asserts.

Socarras says he took breaks anyway for more than six months while working at an Amazon fulfillment center in Tracy, Calif., to administer the shots. In denying him that workplace accommodation, supervisors and managers told him he couldn’t leave his work station because it would hurt Amazon’s efficiency rates and productivity, Socarras alleges.

The complaint also includes claims for violations of California disability discrimination and family rights laws.

McCormack & Erlich LLP represents Socarras. No attorney had filed an appearance yet for the companies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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