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Verizon Communications will pay $20 million and provide various forms of equitable relief under a July 6 agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to settle a class disabilities discrimination lawsuit challenging the company's attendance policies (EEOC v. Verizon Del. LLC, D. Md., No. 1:11-cv-01832, settlement agreement filed 7/6/11).
According to EEOC, the agreement marks the largest disability discrimination settlement in a single lawsuit in the agency's history. The complaint against 24 Verizon subsidiaries, which was filed July 5 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, alleged that the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by maintaining attendance policies that fail to accommodate disabled employees.
These “no fault” policies include progressive disciplinary steps, up to and including termination, for all absences, including absences caused by an employee's disability, except for certified leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, jury or military duty, death in the immediate family, or excused time without pay, the suit asserts.
The proposed settlement, which is pending a judge's approval and would remain in effect for three years from April 20, 2011, covers all of Verizon's former and current union-represented wireline employees within the United States who were covered by the company's attendance policies on or after Jan. 1, 2004.
In addition to paying $20 million in monetary relief, Verizon would be enjoined under the agreement from engaging in disability-based discrimination or retaliation and required to modify its attendance policies and ADA policy to include measures for accommodating qualified individuals with disabilities. At a minimum, the agreement requires Verizon's attendance policies to state explicitly that excusing an absence as “nonchargeable” may be considered a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
Also, the agreement obligates Verizon to post notice of the agreement, to appoint an executive to monitor the implementation of the agreement's terms, and to provide personnel who administer the attendance policies or determine whether absences are “nonchargeable” with at least 90 minutes of live ADA training. Additionally, the company agreed to report to EEOC all employee complaints about disability discrimination linked to the attendance policies and about Verizon's compliance with the settlement agreement.
By entering into the agreement, Verizon does not admit the truth or validity of any allegation in the lawsuit or concede liability under ADA, the agreement states.
“Hopefully this nationwide decree will further public awareness of the importance of engaging in an individualized interactive process to determine whether a disabled employee must be accommodated under the ADA,” EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez said in a July 6 agency announcement.
“We appreciate Verizon working with the EEOC to reach a settlement,” Debra Lawrence, regional attorney for the agency's Philadelphia District, said in the EEOC statement. “In addition to providing meaningful monetary relief for hundreds of former Verizon employees, the settlement contains important equitable relief, including company policy changes and training designed to provide people with disabilities equal opportunities in the workplace.”
In a July 6 e-mail to BNA, Verizon spokesman Bob Varettoni said that the company complies with the ADA and all other employment laws and that its leave-of-absence and accommodation policies “far exceed” legal requirements.
“Verizon has agreed to settle this complaint with the EEOC solely because it is in the best interest of our company, our employees and our customers to avoid the disruption, delay and expense of protracted litigation,” the spokesman said.
“In addition, this settlement, which applies only to union-represented wireline employees, provides Verizon with clearer guidance from the EEOC regarding when it may be appropriate to provide additional leave as a reasonable accommodation under the [ADA]. This was previously lacking and was a significant factor in Verizon agreeing to settle the matter,” Varettoni said.
Full text of the agreement is available at http://op.bna.com/dlrcases.nsf/r?Open=edue-8jht7c .
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