• EEOC Sues Denny's under ADA Based on Maximum Medical Leave Policy
  • October 18, 2006
  • Law Firm: Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP - Charlotte Office

    Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the Denny’s restaurant group in a class action claim alleging failure to provide reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The case was prompted by allegations from an employee who had her leg amputated that the company fired her because of her disability.  During the course of the EEOC’s investigation, the agency focused on a Denny’s policy stating that medical leaves beyond a predetermined limit will be automatically denied. The EEOC claims that this policy operates to exclude a class of disabled employees from returning to work because the reasonable accommodation process requires that individual decisions must be made with regard to requests for extension of leaves.

     Many employers have maximum leave policies.  In many cases, employers avoid conflicts between these policies and the ADA by building in exceptions allowing additional leave for purposes of reasonable accommodation.  In most cases, plaintiffs have difficulty maintaining class action claims under the ADA.  Federal courts often conclude that the potential class of plaintiffs varies in terms of physical or mental impairments, making class certification inappropriate.  In this case, the validity of the policy may rest on the maximum amount of leave.  Even in situations where the company applies an outside limit, if that limit is long enough (i.e., one year or more), it would be difficult to envision a situation where a claim for leave beyond this length would be considered a reasonable accommodation.