Tuesday, March 7, 2023

The 3rd nominee for the “Worst Employer of 2023” is … the awful accommodator

You'd think a nonprofit that provides programs for people with disabilities to build self-reliance through employment services would know a thing or two about the ADA's requirements for reasonable accommodations.

Then there's Innovative Services NW, which the EEOC just sued for it's failure to accommodate a janitor suffering from a degenerative hip disorder. He had asked for a stand-up vacuum to push instead of a backpack vacuum to wear. Not only did ISNW not accommodate him, but it also fired him for his inability to wear that backpack vacuum.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Carly Romero had worked as a janitor for ISNW's Janitorial Services Program for seven years. During her employment high level managers praised her as a valued employee and strong performer.

In August 2019, Romero took an approved 12-week leave under the FMLA for surgery to repair her hip. Upon her return to work, she presented a note from her doctor that released her for all janitorial duties "except for wearing a backpack vacuum for 6 weeks." She instead asked to use an upright vacuum. Despite the fact that ISNW already used upright vacuums at 29 of its customer sites, it denied Romero's accommodation request, placed her an extended unpaid leave, and fired her two months later.

Says EEOC Elizabeth Cannon, EEOC's Field Office Director, "Ms. Romero simply asked to return to work using an upright vacuum, equipment already used by other employees. Instead, ISNW chose to fire her. Under the ADA, an employer cannot deny an employee with a disability the opportunity to work when there is a readily available accommodation that would allow her to perform her job". Adds EEOC Trial Attorney Annabel Pollioni, "Congress passed the ADA to remove barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from finding and keeping their jobs. Ms. Romero was a loyal and motivated worker who needed a basic accommodation in order to return to work."

That is precisely why this employer is my 3rd nominee for the Worst Employer of 2023.