On September 7, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed a lawsuit claiming an employer discriminated against disabled employees by failing to provide workplace accommodations related to COVID-19. Specifically, the EEOC has accused ISS Facility Services Inc. a Denmark-based facilities management company, of unlawfully denying its employee’s reasonable request for an accommodation for her disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and then firing her for making the request. This is the first lawsuit the EEOC has filed of this kind in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and may provide a hint for what is to come.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, Ms. Ronisha Moncrief worked for ISS as a health safety and environmental quality manager in Covington, Georgia. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, from March 2020 until June 2020, ISS required Ms. Moncrief to work remotely. Then, when the facility reopened, she asked to continue to work remotely for two days a week. She also requested to take frequent breaks when she was working on site due to her pulmonary condition, which made it difficult for her to breathe, and put her at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19. Notably, although ISS allowed other employees in Ms. Moncrief’s position to work remotely, ISS denied Ms. Moncrief’s request and then fired her.
In a statement about the case, a regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta district office stated “The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities to ensure those with disabilities have an equal opportunity to work to their full ability. In light of the additional risks to health and safety created by COVID-19, it is particularly concerning that an employer would take this action several months into a global pandemic.”