A health and safety manager in Georgia was fired after her employer denied her request to continue working from home because her heart condition heightened her Covid-19 risk, the EEOC alleged in its first disability accommodation lawsuit connected to the pandemic.
ISS Facility Services Inc., a Denmark-based workplace experience and facility management company with headquarters in San Antonio, unlawfully denied Ronisha Moncrief’s accommodation request under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in a complaint filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
The Covid-19 pandemic led to teleworking arrangements for many workers around the country, which employment attorneys have said weakens employers’ arguments in denying requests for remote work as a reasonable disability accommodation.
The EEOC advocated before the pandemic for those accommodation requests to be granted under the ADA, but courts often balked and largely sided with employers. In the midst of the pandemic, legal battles have begun to play out in court over telework requests, particularly as some businesses were anxious to return to normalcy.
In Moncrief’s case, all of the employees at the ISS Facility where she worked in Covington, Ga., were required to work remotely from March 2020 to June 2020. When the facility reopened, she asked to work remotely two days per week and take frequent breaks while working on-site because of her pulmonary condition, which causes her to have difficulty breathing, according to the EEOC’s complaint.
Although other employees were allowed to continue to work from home, her request was denied and she was fired, the agency said.
ISS Facility Services didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
“The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities to ensure those with disabilities have an equal opportunity to work to their full ability,” Marcus Keegan, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta district office, said in a Tuesday statement announcing the lawsuit. “In light of the additional risks to health and safety created by COVID-19, it is particularly concerning that an employer would take this action several months into a global pandemic.”
Cause of Action: Disability discrimination under the ADA.
Relief: Back pay; compensation for past and future pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses; punitive damages; permanent injunction against disability bias.
Attorneys: EEOC attorneys Veronica Rogusky, Lakisha Zimbabwe, Marcus Keegan, Lisa Morelli, and Gwendolyn Reams represent the agency.
The case is EEOC v. ISS Facility Services, Inc., N.D. Ga., No. 1:21-CV-3708-SCJ-RDC, complaint filed 9/7/21.