Sad reminder: Even HR professionals can get entangled in discrimination issues.  

A paper and packaging manufacturer with a facility located in Battle Creek, MI, will pay $187,500 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of the company’s former HR manager.

EEOC’s lawsuit charged that RockTenn Company and RockTenn Services, Inc. violated federal law by failing to reasonably accommodate the disability of Glenn Janisch and firing him during a pre-authorized short-term-disability leave because of his severe coronary artery disease.

The EEOC claimed Glen Janisch began working for RockTenn in October of 2010 as the human resources manager for the Battle Creek plant. In January 2011, Janisch underwent open heart coronary bypass surgery and was authorized for short-term disability leave through mid-April 2011.

However, in early March 2011, he received medical clearance from his doctor to return to work, initially for half days, and promptly notified RockTenn of his return date, March 21. Despite Janisch’s knowing Janisch’s imminent return date,  RockTenn terminated his employment on March 10.

EEOC filed suit against RockTenn in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan after first attempting to reach a negotiated settlement.

The consent decree settling the suit, in addition to the award of monetary relief, prohibits any such discrimination in the future and requires RockTenn to post a notice about the lawsuit and employee rights under the ADA. In addition, RockTenn must train its human resources managers and Battle Creek plant managers on disability discrimination and reasonable accommodations under the ADA.

The outcome of the case is the most recent example of how anti-discrimination and federal leave laws can intersect. “The law is clear that a medical leave of absence can be a reasonable accommodation under suitable circumstances,” said the EEOC’s Omar Weaver in a press release. “Employers must provide this type of accommodation, whenever possible, before they prematurely terminate employees with disabilities.”

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