ADA in the News February 12, 2021

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Will Pay $15,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, a major restaurant chain, will pay $15,000 and provide significant equitable relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

According to the EEOC's suit, an applicant who is deaf applied online for the position of dishwasher. When he appeared for his scheduled interview at the restaurant’s Linthicum Heights, Md., store, however, he was turned away by a manager and later formally rejected by the restaurant after repeated attempts to contact them. Despite this, he was able to achieve a successful employment history else­where in the restaurant industry, including as a dishwasher. The EEOC alleged that the manager who turned him away did so because of his deafness.

The EEOC first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process before filing suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division (EEOC v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-02674-PX).

“This settlement should remind all employers that applicants, despite their disabilities, must be given the same opportunities to apply for and succeed in the workplace as non-disabled applicants,” said EEOC District Director Jamie Williamson of the EEOC's Philadelphia District Office. “Hiring decisions should be made based on an individual's qualifications and not because of a disability.”

In addition to the $15,000 in monetary relief to the applicant, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is enjoined from future disability discrimination and is required to provide training on the ADA, including on non-discriminatory interviewing and hiring practices. The restaurant must also post a notice reminding employees of their rights under the ADA.


Shortened Limitations Agreements for State Law Claims Remain Viable in Michigan

For many years, it has been a best practice in employment law to include shortened limitations period agreements as part of employment applications, handbook acknowledgements or employment agreements. These agreements shorten applicable statutes of limitations on any claim employees might subsequently bring to six months or shorter, as provided by law.

Recently, the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals covering Michigan again confirmed that this is not allowed for certain federal employment claims. Its Jan. 15, 2021, decision in Thompson v. Fresh Products, LLC held that the shortened statute of limitations period included in handbook acknowledgement was not enforceable against claims under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Before that, in September 2019, the Sixth Circuit confirmed in Logan v. MGM Grand Detroit Casino that the statute of limitations for claims under the federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 could not be contractually shortened.

However, last month in McMillon v. City of Kalamazoo, the Michigan Court of Appeals enforced the shortened limitations period included in an employment application and upheld the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim of discrimination under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. In that decision, the court upheld a nine month limitations period to pursue claims arising out of the employee’s employment that waived contrary limitations periods.


Norwalk Fitness Club Agrees to Comply with the ADA and Improve Accessibility

John H. Durham, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, today announced that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has reached a settlement agreement with Fitness International, LLC, doing business as L.A. Fitness, to resolve allegations that an L.A. Fitness club in Norwalk was not operating in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”).

The settlement agreement resolves an ADA complaint filed by an individual with disabilities alleging that the L.A. Fitness club located at 761 Main Avenue in Norwalk was not accessible to individuals with physical disabilities. L.A. Fitness is in the process of making required changes to the location, including improving the accessibility of the facility’s fitness equipment areas, adding accessible features to restrooms and locker rooms, ensuring access to all guests in the pool area, and making improvements in the “Kids Klub” area to ensure access for individuals with disabilities.

Fitness International, LLC will continue to make improvements over the next three years.

Under federal law, health club facilities are considered “public accommodations” and are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of disability. The ADA authorizes the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate complaints and undertake periodic reviews of compliance of covered entities. The Justice Department is also authorized to commence a civil lawsuit in federal court in any case that involves a pattern or practice of discrimination or that raises issues of general public importance, and to seek injunctive relief, monetary damages, and civil penalties.

U.S. Attorney Durham noted that the Fitness International, LLC has worked cooperatively and collaboratively with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to address the ADA issues without litigation and to make comprehensive changes to the Main Avenue health club facility to improve accessibility.


Coalition Asks Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to Issue Guidance on COVID-19 Vaccination

The ADA and a coalition of more than 40 stakeholders are asking the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to issue guidance regarding employer-provided incentives and the COVID-19 vaccine.
In a Feb. 1 letter, the coalition, led by the National Retail Federation, said it is hopeful that COVID-19 vaccines will “provide a pathway to safely restart the economy,” and in turn, the groups would like to assist in facilitating and expediting the vaccination process.

“We write asking the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to quickly issue guidance clarifying the extent to which employers may offer employees incentives to vaccinate without running afoul of the Americans With Disabilities Act and other laws enforced by the EEOC,” they wrote.

“Employer-provided incentives can assist governments in quickly and efficiently distributing vaccines,” the groups said. “Legal uncertainty about providing such incentives, however, has many employers concerned over liability and has made them hesitant to act. We, therefore, urge the EEOC to issue guidance providing clarification on the extent to which employers may offer their employees incentives to vaccinate.”

“To ensure the guidance is as effective and efficient as possible, we also encourage the EEOC to define what qualifies as a permissible incentive as broadly as possible,” they continued.

“We recognize that wellness incentives have been closely scrutinized over the years and are the subject of recent regulations,” the letter concluded. “We believe, however, that the paramount needs of the current crisis can be distinguished from wellness programs. We strongly encourage the EEOC to act quickly and provide guidance on this important issue.”


Fishers Celebrates Disability Awareness Month Virtually in March

Next month the City of Fishers and Fishers Advisory Committee on Disability will host their annual, month-long celebration of National Disability Awareness Month. The celebration, presented by Old National Bank, strives to bring awareness to what life is like for those with physical and intellectual disabilities through a series of special events and initiatives throughout the city. This year’s celebration will be held virtually, with unique opportunities for all residents to get involved from the comfort of home.

This year’s theme, Building Our Inclusive Community, will celebrate the Committee’s achievements in building an inclusive community including expanded employment opportunities, the creation of social groups such as Thrive Social Club, the addition of affordable and accessible housing with Real America’s SouthPointe Village Apartments, and more.

“Since Fishers became a city, the Fishers Advisory Committee on Disability has strived to build a more inclusive community every year by working with the disability stakeholders and our community partners,” said Cecilia Coble, co-chair of the Fishers Advisory Committee on Disability. “This March, our community will celebrate the achievements that have been built in the last five years in the City of Fishers. This foundation will help us to continue to work together to build a place where individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities can live and thrive without limits."

This year’s lineup includes virtual events hosted by the Fishers Advisory Committee on Disability and community partners such as Fishers Arts Council and the Hamilton East Public Library; a recurring Disability Awareness Month series on featuring guest blogs every Wednesday throughout March; and a new ally campaign which invites residents to become advocates for disability inclusion and showcase their support for the initiative.

“It is so exciting to see the momentum that continues despite this health crisis,” said Kelly Hartman, co-chair of the Fishers Advisory Committee on Disability. “As a committee, we have been able to make the virtual pivot to sustain many of the events that have become the center of disability awareness for Fishers. The unique opportunity is that we can reach even more people, as we know there are some people who may never have come to an in-person event but will find the virtual awareness opportunities intriguing. We are excited to engage many people in our community in March as we strive to be a community that is inclusive of all people.”

The City of Fishers is a suburb of Indianapolis, Indiana, located in Hamilton County and was named #1 Place to Live in the US by Money Magazine in 2017. Under the leadership of Mayor Scott Fadness, Fishers is known as a smart, vibrant, and entrepreneurial city through its neighborhood development, dedication to supporting high-growth companies, and innovative city processes.

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