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Disability support firm settles ADA lawsuit

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A Phoenix disability support services company has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that charged it with discriminating against disabled employees by refusing to provide them with reasonable accommodations, the agency said Tuesday.

The company, ValleyLife, said in a statement it is denying the charges, but settled with the agency to avoid potentially much higher litigation costs.

The EEOC had said in its February 2015 lawsuit that ValleyLife violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by firing employees with disabilities rather than providing them with reasonable accommodations because of its inflexible leave policy.

The agency said the nonprofit firm terminated employees who had exhausted their paid time off and/or any other unpaid leave for which they were eligible under the Family Medical Leave Act rather than determine if there was a reasonable accommodation that would allow them to continue to work.  

Under terms of the settlement agreement, in addition to paying $100,000 to four ex-employees, ValleyLife is required to revise its policies to make clear the company will consider reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees with disabilities, among other provisions, the agency said.

District Director Elizabeth Cadle of the EEOC's Phoenix District Office said in a statement: “Employees with disabilities whose FMLA leave has been exhausted have independent rights under the ADA. Employers must consider reasonable accommodations including additional unpaid leave, leaves of absence and reassignment.”

“ValleyLife denied and continues to deny that it violated any law,” the firm said in a statement.

It said, “settlement of this case was reached simply to avoid unnecessary financial stress during very difficult economic times for the industry,” and that it settled to save litigation costs “which could have reached well over $100,000.”