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There’s no such thing as dog days of summer at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In the final 10 days of August, the agency burst into action, filing 15 discrimination suits targeting major companies including Ford Motor Co., Kohl’s Department Stores, air transporter SITA Information Networking Computing USA, Inc., as well as the government of American Samoa. The cases against Ford, SITA and Kohl’s all involve alleged violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, an increasingly sticky area of employment law. Led by chair Jacqueline Berrien, the EEOC finalized regulations implementing amendments to the Americans With Disabilities Act in March, widening the definition of who is considered disabled. The 2008 amendments overturned several Supreme Court decisions that Congress believed interpreted the definition of “disability” too narrowly, denying protection for people with impairments like cancer, diabetes or epilepsy. The focus now, as evidenced in the EEOC’s latest cases, is not on whether someone is disabled, but rather when and how employers must provide reasonable accommodation. The case against Ford involves the company’s alleged refusal to allow an employee who suffered from irritable bowel syndrome to telecommute. The EEOC sued Ford in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on Aug. 26, charging that rather than providing accommodation, the company began to criticize the employee’s performance and eventually fired her. The suit seeks back pay, reinstatement, and punitive damages. For reasons not specified, the EEOC also wants Ford to pay for the plaintiffs’ chest x-ray tuberculosis test. A Ford spokesperson said in an email that the company “is vigilant in protecting the ADA rights of its employees and is confident it will establish that it complied in full with its ADA obligations.” The suit against SITA, an Atlanta-based air transport communications company, stems from a job applicant, Darlene Case, who received an offer of employment to serve as the personal assistant to a company vice-president, only to learn that she would need cancer surgery. According to the EEOC, Case asked that her start date be moved back, and that she be allowed to work part-time for the first two weeks. The company said no and rescinded the job offer. The EEOC announced on Aug. 30 that it filed suit against SITA seeking reinstatement, back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for Case plus injunctive relief. “This suit is being filed to ensure that employers understand that they have an obligation, short of incurring undue hardship, to provide a reasonable accommodation to employees,” Robert Dawkins, regional attorney for EEOC’s Atlanta District Office, which filed the suit, said in a news release. SITA responded in a statement that it “robustly denies the EEOC’s allegations in their entirety. SITA is an equal employment opportunity employer and does not discriminate against individuals with disabilities. The Company intends vigorously to defend itself with respect to the EEOC’s unfounded claims.” Department store Kohl’s was also sued by the EEOC last week for disability discrimination. The Wisconsin-based retailer allegedly refused to accommodate a diabetic employee’s request for a regular schedule and forced her to quit her job at a Westbrook, Maine, Kohl’s store. A Kohl’s spokewoman did not return a call seeking comment. Disability suits aren’t the only area where the EEOC has been active. In a novel move, the agency on Aug. 30 sued the government of American Samoa for age discrimination — its first-ever action against the U.S. territory. According to the EEOC, the American Samoa government launched a campaign to remove older employees from its work force in order to open up positions for younger people. The EEOC alleges that the director of human resources executed plans in 2009 to remove older staff by involuntarily reassigning employees over the age of 50 into undesirable positions. The EEOC asserts that the reassignments were designed to pressure older workers to retire or resign. “Age discrimination is on the rise and the EEOC stands vigilant to protect all workers,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Territory of American Samoa, in a written statement. “The governments of U.S. territories should act as model employers and prevent civil rights violations.” Other EEOC suits filed in the last 10 days of August have hit more or less every category of discrimination, including sex bias (against Crime Scene Cleaners); discrimination based on national origin (Rugo Stone); pregnancy discrimination (DTM and Belmont Village); religious discrimination (The Patty Tipton Co.); retaliation (Pine View Living); age discrimination (Advance Components); harassment and retaliation (Fremont Toyota); and sexual harassment (New Pine Ridge Restaurant, Gaucho’s Brazilian Steakhouse, Inc. and Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant). Contact Jenna Greene at [email protected].

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