CWS 3.0: December 12, 2012

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EEOC Sues Sony and Staffing Firm

Staffing buyer Sony Electronics Inc. and its staffing supplier, Staffmark Investment LLC, were sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last week in a lawsuit alleging the firms violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by terminating a woman with a prosthetic leg.

Dorothy Shanks had been assigned to work a temporary job for Sony at a facility in Romeoville, Ill., where workers package, inspect and ship Sony products, according to the EEOC.

A Staffmark employee told Shanks on her second day at work that she was being removed from her assignment because they did not want anyone bumping into her, according to the EEOC. The Staffmark employee also indicated the company would find Shanks another assignment where she could sit. The EEOC claims Staffmark never sent Shanks to work on any other job assignments even though Shanks repeatedly called the company seeking work.

“The ADA requires that individuals with disabilities be judged on their ability to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation,” said EEOC District Director John Rowe. “Ms. Shanks performed her job with no difficulty, but was fired because of unjustified fears about her having a prosthetic leg. Firing employees because of baseless fears and stereotypes about their disabilities is illegal, and the EEOC will defend the victims of such unlawful conduct.”

The EEOC filed the lawsuit after attempting to reach a voluntary settlement with the companies.

Staffmark said in a statement the EEOC lawsuit is without merit. “Staffmark has not engaged in any wrongdoing and intends to vigorously defend the case,” the company said.

Contingent workforce managers need to be mindful that they and their staffing partners are equally liable for complying with anti-discrimination laws. “Discrimination carries with it financial consequences for staffing agencies and their clients alike,” says Eric H. Rumbaugh, an employment attorney and partner with Michael Best and Friedrich LLC. “If a court finds discrimination by both parties, each may be held liable for any consequential damages.” Each should be sure to include contingent workers in their anti-discrimination policies and be sure they are strictly enforced. 

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