DECATUR, Ala. – The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against Oakwood, Georgia-based Wayne Farms discriminated against a class of workers with disabilities by maintaining an inflexible attendance policy. The alleged conduct is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), EEOC said.
Wayne Farms’ attendance policy capped the number of allowable employee absences leaving little to no allowance for disability-related absences, the agencysaid in a statement.
“For example, the suit said that an employee, Latonya Hodges, provided medical excuses for absences related to her asthma, yet was fired upon reaching the maximum number of allowable absences,” the agency explained.
The EEOC filed the lawsuit after attempts to reach a pre-litigation settlement failed.
“The ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations, including time off, to workers with disabilities,” Delner-Franklin Thomas, district director of EEOC’s Birmingham District Office, said in a statement. “Attendance policies that categorically limit an employee’s absences, without consideration of the individual circumstances of disabled employees, can run afoul of federal law.” The Birmingham, Alabama District Office has jurisdiction over Alabama, portions of Mississippi and Florida.
In a statement, Wayne Farms said the company will “actively dispute” the lawsuit. The company said the litigation stems from a previous investigation in 2011 related to employee absenteeism and termination of employees following repeated unexcused absences.
“While we have not seen the EEOC’s reported disability discrimination suit, it appears it was based on the extensive investigations conducted five years ago,” the company said in a statement. “Wayne Farms is completely confident that management met all legal and contract obligations to the two Decatur, Alabama employees who filed the underlying EEOC charges, neither of whom raised any issue through the agreed union contract processes. Given the facts we presented in response to the investigation, and given the EEOC’s inexplicable delay in pursuing this matter, we will vigorously defend the action when received.”
The agency is seeking a court order requiring Wayne Farms to comply with the ADA and barring the company from applying its attendance policy to disabled employees who require additional medical leave as a reasonable accommodation. The lawsuit also seeks lost wages and benefits, compensatory and punitive damages, and other relief for victims and the public.Wayne Farms is the sixth largest poultry processor in the United States with annual sales of more than $1.9 billion. The company, which is a subsidiary of Continental Grain Co., owns and operates 11 fresh and further-processed facilities throughout the Southeast and produces more than 2.6 billion lbs. of poultry products annually.