The Chicago Employment Law Blog

St. Alexius Medical Center Sued for Firing Disabled Greeter

The Chicago branch of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was busy last week. They announced three new lawsuits against local employers on Friday, including a disability discrimination case against St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. The hospital allegedly failed to reasonably accommodate the needs of a cognitively disabled greeter, and instead fired the employee.

When it comes to disabled employees, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires an employer to make efforts in good faith to accommodate the employee's needs, if it does not create an undue hardship for the employer.

How does that play into this case?

According to the EEOC's St. Alexius lawsuit, the hospital not only fired the cognitively disabled employee, but managers failed to even consider what accommodations might allow that employee to continue in his or her duties.

Employers are supposed to at least discuss the matter with the employee to determine if there is a way to fix the problem before termination. The EEOC suggested that written job instructions may have sufficed.

Obviously, "cognitively disabled" is a vague term. Perhaps the employee's impairment was at a level where no amount of accommodation could have helped him or her fulfill the essential duties of the job. If so, the termination was probably lawful.

However, such a defense to an ADA claim is much more difficult to make if the discussion about possible accommodations was never made. That's why it's wise for employers to speak with the employee about his or her disability and needs, and perhaps also speak with an employment-law attorney, before making the decision to terminate the employment relationship.

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