Company Now Known as RockTenn CP, LLC Fired Employee Because of His Disability, Federal Agency Charged
FLORENCE, S.C. - RockTenn CP, LLC formerly known as Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation, will pay $20,000 and furnish other relief to resolve a discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's complaint filed on June 27, 2013, Darren Fraley was hired by Smurfit-Stone as a third shift production supervisor on August 25, 2008. In February 2009, Fraley was hospitalized with a severe back condition. On February 17, 2009, Fraley informed Smurfit-Stone's senior human resources clerk that he had been hospitalized, was under a doctor's care and would require back surgery. Because of his short tenure at the company, Fraley was not eligible for disability leave. However, Fraley was erroneously placed on short term disability, effective February 2009. From February 2009 through July 2009, Fraley kept the HR clerk informed about his prognosis, condition, and return-to-work status.
The EEOC further alleged that on July 29, 2009, the HR clerk contacted Fraley and informed him that he had been mistakenly placed on short term disability for which he was ineligible and that he was being terminated effective August 1, 2009. Fraley objected to the termination and told the HR clerk that he was scheduled to be released to return to work the following week. On August 3, 2009, Fraley's doctor released him to return to work without restrictions, effective August 4, 2009. Smurfit-Stone refused to allow Fraley leave as a reasonable accommodation for his disability for the period from around July 29, 2009 until he was released to return to work around August 4, 2009. Rather, the company discharged Fraley because he could not return to work because of his disability.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees and applicants from discrimination based on their disabilities and requires employers to provide disabled employees with reasonable accommodations. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Florence Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. RockTenn CP, LLC f/k/a Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation; Civil Action No. 4:13-CV-01759-BHH) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.
In addition to monetary damages, the one-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit requires RockTenn to, among other things, conduct training on the requirements of the ADA and the interrelationship between the ADA and other types of leave; distribute and maintain its formal, written anti-discrimination policy; and post a copy of its anti-discrimination policy at its facility in Latta, S.C. Defendant must also post an employee notice about the lawsuit at the Latta facility.
"We are pleased that we were able to resolve this case without protracted litigation," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District Office. "This case is a reminder to employers that they must always consider whether their leave policies and practices for granting leave are in alignment with the requirements of the ADA."
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency's web site at www.eeoc.gov.