Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A 💩 disability discrimination case

A call center employee, suffering from Crohn's Disease, asks his manager for some flexibility in the company's break schedules or other accommodations for his bathroom needs. Instead, his supervisor accuses him of stealing time and fires him.

Or at least that's what Nicolas Stover claims happened to him at a Kentucky Amazon call center.

According to Stover's discrimination lawsuit (as reported by The Seattle Times), the call center's standard nine-hour shift includes one hour for a meal and two 15-minute breaks, scheduled by Amazon and unchangeable under any circumstances. Additionally, Amazon provides each employee up to 20 minutes of unscheduled "personal time" per week, to be used in increments not to exceed 10 minutes in any given work day. Time taken beyond the scheduled breaks and 20-minute weekly allotment "will subject the employee to reprimand and other disciplinary possibilities."

Because of his Crohn's Disease (a chronic inflammatory disease of the intestines that causes, among other symptoms, diarrhea), Stover needed to use the bathroom more frequently than Amazon's break policies allowed. Thus, aided by a doctor-completed Amazon accommodation request form, Stover asked for a "bathroom facility readily available."

According to Stover's lawsuit, however, Amazon refused. It could have moved his work station closer to a bathroom or granted him unscheduled emergency bathroom breaks, but instead it accused him of taking "too much personal time" and of "time theft" for his bathroom use, and fired him.

And while these allegations sound not-so-good for Amazon, here is what this case will come down to. With the Stover's proposed accommodations, and his more frequent bathroom breaks, would he be able nevertheless to meet Amazon's performance standards (assuming Amazon equally applies those standards to all employees). An otherwise ADA-protected employee must still meet his or her employer's performance standards (with or without reasonable accommodation). According to the EEOC:

An employee with a disability must meet the same production standards, whether quantitative or qualitative, as a non-disabled employee in the same job. Lowering or changing a production standard because an employee cannot meet it due to a disability is not considered a reasonable accommodation. However, a reasonable accommodation may be required to assist an employee in meeting a specific production standard.

Assuming Stover can meet whatever quantitative or qualitative performance or production standards Amazon requires of all of its call-center employees, then moving Stover's work location or restructuring his breaks to make a "bathroom facility readily available" is likely a reasonable accommodation Amazon should have offered. And it certainly should not have fired Stover for taking "too much personal time" and for "time theft".

According to the EEOC, it is an appropriate reasonable accommodation for an employer (absent undue hardship) to:

  • Modify a workplace policy when necessitated by an individual's disability-related limitations.
  • Permit an employee with a disability to work a modified schedule, such as providing periodic breaks.
  • Relocate a disabled employee's work space.

In this case, an one of these accommodations could have enabled Stover to have a readily available bathroom facility. Amazon considered and offered none, instead firing Stover. If I'm Amazon (an assuming Stover's facts are provable), I'm saying, "Oh 💩!" and figuring out how to make this case disappear.

* Photo by Gabor Monori on Unsplash