ATLANTA — A woman's termination from her job near Social Circle in 2020 has led to a federal agency’s first nationwide action to address workplace discrimination related to COVID-19.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a federal lawsuit a woman's employer fired her for seeking to work from home because of a lung condition rather than at a Social Circle pharmaceutical plant during the pandemic in 2020.
It alleges that ISS Facility Services Inc. unlawfully denied employee Ronisha Moncrief’s "reasonable request for an accommodation for her disability" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and then fired her for asking for it.
“This case represents the first lawsuit the EEOC has filed about a request for an ADA accommodation related to COVID-19,” the agency said in a news release.
ISS is a Denmark-based facility management and maintenance company. Moncrief worked as a health safety and environmental quality manager for the company at the Takeda Pharmaceuticals facility near Social Circle, according to the lawsuit.
She was diagnosed with obstructive lung disease in early March 2020 which made it difficult for her to breathe. She then asked for a reasonable accommodation — including a request from her physician — under the ADA that included working from home and taking frequent breaks from working when at the Takeda site.
At the same time, ISS changed its work schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic for all employees at Moncrief’s facility and allowed them to work from home four days a week and in-person one day.
Then around June 2020, ISS told its employees at Takeda it was requiring they work in-person five days per week. Moncrief again asked ISS to allow her to work from home two days per week with frequent rest breaks while working at the facility, according to the lawsuit.
"In the documentation Moncrief submitted to (ISS), it was noted that Moncrief needed the accommodation because her past and recent bouts with severe pulmonary disease made her a high-risk for contracting COVID-19.
“In the performance of her job duties, Moncrief had close contact with many employees and often shared a desk with co-workers," the lawsuit stated.
But ISS denied her request despite other managers with the same duties being allowed to work from home, EEOC says in the lawsuit. It also claims that Moncrief could perform all the essential functions of her position with the requested accommodation.
On Aug. 13, 2020, Moncrief’s supervisor contacted Human Resources recommending that Moncrief be fired due to “performance issues,” according to the suit.
"At the time she was terminated, Moncrief had not been informed by management that her job performance warranted termination," the lawsuit states.
The EEOC said in its news release it first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement with ISS before filing suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia's Atlanta Division.
The action violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the EEOC alleged.
Darrell Graham, district director of the Atlanta office, said, “The EEOC is committed to enforcing the ADA to protect the rights of such aggrieved employees.”
Marcus G. Keegan, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta District Office, said, “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.
“Denying a reasonable accommodation and terminating an employee because of her disability clearly violates the ADA at any time. 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.”
Its lawsuit seeks back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages for Moncrief, as well as injunctive relief to prevent future discrimination, the release stated.
The agency declined further comment, a spokesman said.
ISS did not immediately return a phone call and email for comment on the allegations Thursday, Sept. 16.