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American Airlines, subsidiary settle EEOC disability suit

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American Airlines Inc. and its Envoy Air Inc. unit have agreed to pay $9.8 million in stock to settle a nationwide disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in which they were charged with unlawfully denying reasonable accommodations to hundreds of employees.

The stock is being given to about 1,500 current and former employees who are potential claimants, according to court papers filed with the U.S. District Court in Phoenix in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. American Airlines Inc. et al.

Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines said in a statement the policy at issue has since been changed.

EEOC said in its statement Monday that American and Envoy violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by requiring employees to have no restrictions before they could return to work following a medical leave.

The EEOC said under this policy, the airlines did not determine if there were reasonable accommodations that would allow the employee to return to work with restrictions.

In addition to $9.8 million in stock, which the EEOC said is worth more than $14 million if cashed in, under terms of the settlement the airlines must adopt policies that ensure reasonable accommodations are provided to persons with disabilities.

“This settlement demonstrates the need for employers to have good ADA policies,” Elizabeth Cadle, the EEOC district director in Phoenix, said in the statement. “That means policies which consider employers’ obligations to provide reassignment without competition as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities who become unable to do their current job even with accommodations.”

Referring to American Airline’s 2013 merger with US Airways Group Inc., American Airlines said in a statement: “Though well intentioned, we recognize that some of the legacy policies and procedures in place prior to the merger could do more to foster the safe and equitable environment we want for all of our team members.

“As we harmonized our legacy policies in 2015 we proactively eliminated the procedures in question and well before the EEOC asked us to make any changes.

“We are happy to have reached a settlement but more importantly, to know that our current policies are designed with our team’s safety and well-being in mind and are fully compliant with the ADA and all other laws.”