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UPS agrees to $2 million settlement in disability discrimination lawsuit

UPS has agreed to pay a total of $2 million to nearly 90 current and former employees to resolve a national disability discrimination lawsuit that challenged the company's maximum leave policy, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed by the EEOC in 2009 in Chicago federal court, alleged the Atlanta-based shipping giant violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it failed to provide employees with reasonable accommodations and maintained an "inflexible" leave policy that automatically fired employees when they reached 12 months of leave, without an interactive process.

"Having a multiple-month leave policy alone does not guarantee compliance with the ADA," Julianne Bowman, the EEOC's Chicago District director, said in a statement. "Such a policy must also include the flexibility to work with employees with disabilities who may simply require a reasonable accommodation to return to work."

The lawsuit stemmed from charges filed by Trudi Momsen, an Illinois woman with multiple sclerosis who was fired from UPS in March 2007 after 17 years with the company.

Momsen, who worked as an administrative assistant in UPS' payroll department, took a medical leave of absence for 12 months for reasons related to her disability and returned to work in February 2007, needing the use of a cane to walk, according to the complaint. She claimed UPS declined her request for accommodation, such as use of a hand cart, and declined to grant her additional time off for more therapeutic treatment.

UPS' policy allows employees with a documented medical basis to take up to 12 months of leave, with most receiving disability or workers' compensation benefits, but the EEOC said the limit tends to screen out people with disabilities. In a motion to dismiss the claim, UPS had argued regular attendance is an essential job function.

In an emailed statement Tuesday UPS said the settlement, which applies to 88 Chicago-area employees, recognizes that the company "has a robust ADA accommodation in place, along with one of the more generous and flexible leave policies in corporate America." It added that it "has an ADA accommodation process to assist employees in returning to work."

In addition to the $2 million, UPS agreed to update its policies on reasonable accommodation, improve its implementation of those policies, conduct training and provide the EEOC periodic reports on the status of every accommodation request for the next three years, the EEOC said.

The outcome was in keeping with several other cases challenging "wooden leave limitations," said Brian Bulger, an attorney in the Chicago office of Cozen O'Connor, who was not involved in the case.

"It's surprising that so many employers have not gotten the message," Bulger said. "If they have just that leave limit without a process that an exception can be made, they are in trouble."

aelejalderuiz@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @alexiaer

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