Electrical Supply Company Ordered to Pay $846,300 for Firing Cancer Survivor
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) today announced its largest-ever administrative award of $846,300 against electrical supplier Acme Electric Corporation for firing an employee because he had cancer. Headquartered in Lumberton, North Carolina, Acme Electric is a division of Actuant Corporation, a Wisconsin diversified industrial corporation that operates in more than 30 countries.
Charles Richard Wideman worked for Acme Electric as western regional sales manager overseeing sales operations in the company’s largest territory from February 2004 to March 2008. He developed kidney cancer in 2006 and prostate cancer in 2007. Mr. Wideman’s cancers required two surgeries and numerous cancer-related outpatient appointments. The company immediately granted his two requests for time off for surgery and recuperative leave. However, Mr. Wideman requested further accommodation for the travel limitation his cancers caused from June 2006 through April 2007. Acme Electric refused to grant or even acknowledge these accommodation requests. Instead, in December 2007, Mr. Wideman’s supervisor gave him an unfavorable performance evaluation, criticizing him for insufficient travel. On February 28, 2008, ignoring Mr. Wideman’s need for accommodation the preceding year and failing to take into account his dramatically improved job performance, Acme Electric fired Mr. Wideman, relying on the insufficient travel pretext.
After a three-day hearing, the State’s Fair Employment and Housing Commission found Acme Electric violated the FEHA by failing to accommodate Mr. Wideman’s known travel limitation due to his cancers, failing to engage in a good faith interactive process, discriminating against Mr. Wideman because of his disability, and failing to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination from occurring. To compensate Mr. Wideman for his losses, the Commission awarded him $748,571 for lost wages, $22,729 for out-of-pocket expenses and $50,000 for the emotional distress he suffered. In addition, the Commission ordered Acme to pay $25,000 to the State’s General Fund as an administrative fine. Acme must further comply with posting, policy changes, and training requirements ordered by the Commission.
Employer lesson: You can’t ignore ADA restrictions simply because it’s a pain to comply with. Any employee with a disability has to perform, with or without accommodations. In this case, had ACME attempted to accommodate Mr. Wideman…and he still could not perform to standard, then there is no liability. To learn about accommodating employees with cancer go to http://askjan.org/media/canc.htm