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Disability support firm sued over firing disabled workers


A Phoenix disability support services company is being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for allegedly discriminating against disabled employees by refusing to provide them with reasonable accommodations, the agency said.

The nonprofit company, ValleyLife, denies the charges.

The EEOC said in a statement Thursday 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. It said the policy compelled the termination of employees who had exhausted their time off and/or any unpaid leave to which they were eligible under the Family Medical Leave Act.

In an example cited in its statement, EEOC said ValleyLife forced out one supervisor, Glenn Stephens, because he needed further surgery when his FMLA leave was exhausted and did not engage in any interactive process to determine whether any accommodations, including additional leave, were possible. The EEOC said Mr. Stephens had worked for ValleyLife for more than 10 years at the time of his termination.

“Individuals with disabilities are untapped resources that employers should value and utilize — indeed, this is the essence of ValleyLife’s business,” said EEOC Phoenix District Office regional attorney Mary Jo O’Neill in a statement. “It is critical that employers reach out to employees with disabilities to make an informed and accurate evaluation of their ability to work and to provide reasonable accommodations where necessary.”

Valley Life said in a statement, “Our mission at ValleyLIfe is to help disabled individuals to maximize their full potential. At no time would we treat our employees with disabilities contrary to our mission.

“Although we have just received the EEOC lawsuit, we are well aware of the issues. The employees that the EEOC alleges were not accommodated were in fact accommodated to every extent possible. We cannot accommodate employees, nor does the law require us to accommodate employees, whose doctors tell us they cannot perform the essential functions of the job. We cannot accommodate employees who are too ill to come to work.

“We categorically deny that we violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and will vigorously defend this baseless lawsuit,” the statement said.

Earlier this week, two appellate courts separately ruled against employers — Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based Sears Roebuck & Co. and Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio — in disability discrimination cases holding that they had failed to accommodate disabled workers.

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