Poultry Processor Fired Employee Because of Her Anemia, Federal Agency Charged

WILMINGTON, N.C. — House of Raeford Farms, Inc., a poultry processor, will pay $52,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that House of Raeford violated federal law by discriminating against an employee because of her disability.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Erica Sutton, who has anemia, was employed by House of Raeford on a box construction line. On May 24, 2011, the box line employees were moved to the debone department, which is a cold environment. Sutton informed her supervisor that she could not work in a cold environment due to her anemia, asking to work in a warmer environment. The EEOC said that instead of assigning Sutton to a vacant position in a warmer environment, House of Raeford sent Sutton home until she could provide a doctor’s note stating that she had been diagnosed with anemia. The EEOC charged that instead of allowing Sutton time to get the doctor’s note, House of Raeford fired her on June 1. The EEOC also charged that House of Raeford unlawfully disclosed Sutton’s confidential medical information.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees from discrimination based on their disabilities and requires employers to provide disabled employees with reasonable accommodations unless it would be an undue hardship on the employer to do so. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Southern Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. House of Raeford Farms, Inc.; Civil Action No. 7:13-CV-00183) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to the monetary damages, which total $52,073.54, the two-year consent decree settling the suit requires that House of Raeford develop a discrimination policy which includes the ADA. In addition, House of Raeford will provide annual training to its managers and supervisors at its Rose Hill facility on the ADA and post an employee notice at the facility concerning the lawsuit and employee rights under federal anti-discrimination laws.

“This case reminds employers that a reasonable accommodation can be as simple as allowing an employee sufficient time to secure a doctor’s note,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District. “Following that simple requirement of the ADA could have saved the employer as well as the employee a lot of needless trouble. In addition, employers need to be reminded that an employee’s medical information must be kept confidential.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.