The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued United Parcel Service Inc. on Thursday, August 27, alleging the packaging giant violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it terminated an administrative assistant with multiple sclerosis.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, seeks class-action status on behalf of a class of disabled UPS employees whom the EEOC alleges were similarly unfairly treated under the company’s 12-month leave policy.
According to an EEOC press release, Trudi Momsen took a 12-month leave of absence from her job at UPS when she began experiencing symptoms of what was later diagnosed as multiple sclerosis.
She returned to work for a few weeks after the leave period was up, but soon thereafter needed additional time off after experiencing what she believed to be negative side effects of her medication. Although Momsen could have returned to work after the additional two-week leave, UPS fired her for exceeding its 12-month leave policy.
In the release, EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John Hendrickson said that leave policies that set arbitrary deadlines for returning to work after medical treatment, such as those at UPS, “unfairly keep disabled employees from working. Sometimes a simple conversation with the employee about what might be needed to return to work is all that is necessary to keep valued employees in their jobs.”
The suit seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for Momsen and a class of disabled employees whom UPS allegedly similarly refused to accommodate.
In a statement, UPS called the EEOC suit “surprising and misdirected.”
“The employee in this case never asked for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Following nearly a year’s leave of paid absence, she returned to work after being released to return to her regular job without restrictions,” UPS said. Then 18 days later, she “in essence, abandoned her position without ever providing management any medical documentation justifying additional time off.”
UPS described its 12-month leave policy as “one of the more generous and flexible leave policies in corporate America.”
The policy is not “automatic or absolute and exceptions may be granted when employees seek an accommodation under the ADA,” it said, noting that it has “many examples” of employees whose leave has been extended beyond 12 months.
UPS said it will “vigorously defend” its policy.