The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued United Airlines on Thursday for alleged disability discrimination, accusing it of unjustly firing three employees who were physically unable to meet its new requirement for a minimum 30-hour work week.
The agency filed suit in U.S. District Court in Seattle on behalf of reservation staff in Honolulu and Seattle and a potential class of employees across the United States, saying the carrier's policy on minimum working hours violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to the complaint, longtime United employees Maria Lovell and Shelly Kia from the Honolulu office and Janet Lawhead from its Seattle office were forced out of their jobs in 2003 when the company imposed the 30-hour minimum rule. It said United required all reservation sales and service representatives who could not work the minimum hours to either retire or go on leave, and dismissed them when their leave expired.
Joan Ehrlich, director of the EEOC's San Francisco district, said the women had worked for United from 15 to nearly 30 years and had been allowed to work 20-hour work weeks since the 1980s to help accommodate their disabilities, which included multiple sclerosis, tendinitis and carpal tunnel.
"Instead of making a good-faith effort to accommodate employees with disabilities as required by the ADA, United implemented a policy that simply jettisoned long-time workers," Ehrlich said in a news release.
Spokesman Brandon Borrman of UAL Corp., the Elk Grove Village-based parent of United Airlines, said: "We made all reasonable attempts to accommodate employees affected by this policy, and we believe we acted in full compliance with all laws."
Shares of UAL fell 59 cents, or 2.2 percent, to close at $26.82 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: http://www.eeoc.gov
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