The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed two lawsuits against Colorado employers alleging they unlawfully fired employees after learning of their disabilities.
The lawsuits, filed Sept. 11, each claim an employer fired an employee because they had a seizure at work. In each case, the EEOC says the seizure led to the employees’ unlawful termination without the employer first seeking to accommodate their condition.
The defendants in the Americans with Disabilities Act complaints are Gollnick Construction, which does business as Colorado Excavating, and Waterway Gas & Wash Company. Gollnick fired an office assistant days after she’d suffered a seizure on the job. Waterway fired an employee at its Lone Tree location two weeks after he suffered a seizure; the company allegedly refused to engage in the interactive process with him. The lawsuits represent a pocket of ADA enforcement involving employees with epilepsy, which the EEOC has long watched but rarely taken to court.
The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities so they can still perform the essential duties of their role, except where doing so would place “undue hardship” on the employer.
An estimated 3.4 million people in the U.S. have epilepsy, and the Epilepsy Foundation estimates one-third of them suffer from uncontrollable seizures.
“Negative stereotypes and fears about people with epilepsy are inadequate grounds for refusing to accommodate the disability or for terminating an employee with a seizure disorder,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill in a press release announcing the lawsuits. “These two lawsuits stress that employment decisions should not be driven by stereotypes and fears about people with epilepsy.”
Also in that release, Sarah Klein, CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado said most people with epilepsy don’t need work accommodations, “so employers should not presume that epilepsy has any impact on an employee’s ability to do their job.” Only one of the Sept. 11 lawsuits, the action against Waterway, identifies the plaintiff employee’s condition as epilepsy.
To read the rest of this story and other complete articles featured in the Sept. 23, 2019 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.