The Chicago Employment Law Blog

Dillard's Settles Nationwide Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

National department store chain Dillard’s, which has three locations in Illinois, will pay $2 million and undergo significant changes to their policies regarding disabled and sick leave policies. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which brought the suit on behalf of Corina Scott, a former California employee, and an unknown number of others that may have been affected by Dillard’s policies, Dillard’s policies regarding disability leave violated a number of provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Beginning in 2005, Dillard’s adopted a new policy regarding sick leave that required employees to disclose their exact medical condition in order to be approved for leave - even if they had a doctor’s note. Those who took leave without providing specifics were terminated.

The ADA prohibits employers from asking about the specifics of an employee's disability unless the request is job-related and necessary for the conduct of the business, such as for the purpose of making reasonable accommodations to allow a disabled employee to continue working.

Another issue that was presented and resolved in the lawsuit was Dillard's termination of employees who took sick leave beyond the company's prescribed maximum. The ADA, in some cases, may have required that the employer allow more time than the company's policy allotted. Had an employee been terminated for taking too much leave, while still being entitled to ADA leave, the termination would have been wrongful as well.

As part of the settlement, $2 million will be paid to identified victims of disability discrimination and a class fund will be established for yet to be identified victims. In addition, Dillard's has agreed to hire a consultant familiar with AHA requirements to help modify company policies to comply with federal laws.

Employers should be advised the employees' medical information is not only protected by the ADA but also may be protected by a number of state and federal privacy laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). Unless employees' medical information is absolutely necessary, such as an employee that works in a sensitive area of a hospital, employers should make due with a minimal amount of information, even if that information is merely a non-specific doctor's note.

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