- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Otis Worldwide Corp., known as Otis Elevator Co., on Tuesday, alleging the Farmington, Connecticut-based company didn’t offer a reasonable accommodation to an assistant mechanic with a disability and then retaliated against that employee by keeping him on unpaid leave, according to a news release (EEOC v. Otis Worldwide Corp. No. 1:23-cv-10612 (D. Mass. March 21, 2023)).
- After starting at Otis Elevator, which repairs elevators and escalators, in 2021, the worker’s “heightened sensitivity to loud ambient or vocal noises” affected “his ability to think and concentrate” while on construction sites because of his autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, according to the complaint. The employee requested a reasonable accommodation but was not given one, the EEOC said.
- The worker was placed on unpaid leave for a foot injury soon after, but the company refused to let him return to work for months, ignoring doctor’s notes giving the go ahead, the EEOC alleged. The EEOC is calling for back pay, front pay and damages for the worker and injunctive relief to prevent disability discrimination in the future.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities. That includes for conditions that aren’t always obvious, known as invisible disabilities, which includes chronic fatigue, diabetes and depression, among others.
“The ADA requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees with qualified disabilities, and that includes autism spectrum disorder and ADHD,” Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York district office, said in the release. “In this case, an employee was left in the lurch for months, without pay, just because he requested accommodation for his disabilities. The EEOC has stepped in to right this wrong.”
Reasonable accommodations are steps a company can take to help a person with a disability perform their job. Those can include offering flexible working conditions, changing a schedule or making a site wheelchair-accessible, per the EEOC.
The Otis Elevator Co. worker asked to be “reassigned to a role or environment with fewer competing auditory inputs, vocal or otherwise” and talked with the HR department about finding a position in a department that would accommodate his disabilities, according to the complaint.
At times, the employee was relocated to work with a construction department adjuster on assignments that were removed from the noisy construction sites but also was reassigned to construction site duties, the complaint alleged.
The employee “told Otis’s HR Department that his reassignment to an active construction site was problematic for his disabilities and, as a result, posed a risk to his and others’ safety, and asked them to speed along the accommodation process for him,” the complaint said.
The EEOC has pursued several cases featuring invisible disabilities in recent years. In July 2022, the agency said a Hobby Lobby in Kansas ran afoul of the ADA because it refused to let a cashier use her service dog to help with symptoms caused by PTSD, anxiety and depression over safety concerns. And in May 2022, a Subway franchisee in Arizona agreed to pay $30,000 to settle EEOC allegations that it failed to accommodate a worker with autism and then fired that employee after four shifts.