Denying Employee’s Remote Work Accommodation Request Spurs EEOC Lawsuit

In its first COVID-19-related disability accommodation lawsuit, the EEOC alleges that ISS Facility Services (“ISS”) discriminated against its employee, Ronisha Moncrief, when it denied her reasonable request for an accommodation and terminated her employment.  Moncrief, a Health Safety & Environmental Quality Manager (“HSE Manager”), suffered multiple physical ailments including COPD and hypertension.  After becoming ill and being diagnosed with Obstructive Lung disease, Moncrief’s physician recommended she work from home and take frequent breaks.

Due to the pandemic, ISS’s staff, including Moncrief, were working in the facility on a rotational basis, resulting in Moncrief and other employees working from home four days per week. When ISS required all its staff to return to working at the facility five days per week, Moncrief requested an accommodation to continue working from home two days per week and be allowed frequent breaks while working onsite.

Even though other HSE Managers were allowed to continue working from home, ISS denied Moncrief’s request.  Almost one month after denying Moncrief’s requested accommodation, her supervisor contacted HR recommending that Moncrief be removed and replaced due to performance issues and then ultimately terminated her employment.

The EEOC argues that Moncrief was a qualified individual with a disability, who could perform all essential functions of her position with an accommodation and that ISS’s practices deprived Moncrief of equal employment opportunities due to her disability.  The EEOC seeks back pay, compensation for past and future pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses, and punitive damages.

Bottom Line

While the outcome of this lawsuit remains to be seen, employers should take heed.  ADA-eligible employees may argue that, because they could telework during the pandemic, they should continue to be permitted to telework as a reasonable accommodation.  Employers should be prepared to address what is different, and why continued telework accommodation is not reasonable if they are going to deny such a request.