House Cleaning Service Subjected Employee to Unlawful Inquiries and Harassment Based on Abnormal Gait, Federal Agency Charged
CHICAGO – Mont Brook, Inc., doing business as The Cleaning Authority of Plainfield, will pay $15,000 to a former employee as part of a three-year consent decree resolving a civil rights suit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency announced today.
The EEOC charged that the Plainfield, Ill.-based house cleaning service violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when one of the company’s officers harassed an employee who walks with an abnormal gait due a stroke. According to the agency’s complaint, the officer referred to the employee as “a cripple,” mockingly imitated the way she walks, and told her that she was being a “hysterical basket case” when she objected. The officer also reportedly asked the employee, “Are you crippled?”
The company had argued that since such conduct involved a small number of instances over a two-day period, it was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to be unlawful harassment. However, the court rejected that argument and denied the company’s request to dismiss the case.
The ADA prohibits subjecting an employee to harassment because of her disability. It also prohibits making disability-related inquiries of any employee – whether disabled or not – unless the inquiry is job-related and justified by a business need.
The EEOC filed suit, EEOC v. Mont Brook, Inc. d/b/a The Cleaning Authority of Plainfield, Civil Action No. 13-cv-6799, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle entered the decree resolving the suit on January 23, 2015. In addition to monetary relief for the former employee, the decree requires that the company provide training to its managers and other employees about the ADA, and imposes record-keeping and reporting requirements for the duration of the decree, among other measures.
“When directed at an individual with a physical disability, ‘cripple’ is a profoundly offensive and degrading epithet,” said John Hendrickson, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Chicago. “Courts and the EEOC have long recognized that the use of unambiguously discriminatory epithets by a manager to a subordinate can quickly create an abusive working environment. All employees have the right to work in an environment free from discriminatory insults and ridicule – and that includes employees with disabilities.”
The EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.