UAL Settles Discrimination Suit

Reprinted from PN March 2011

United Airlines paid a group of disabled workers and changed its scheduling policy as part of a settlement alleging the company violated the American with Disabilities Act.

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United Airlines has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit alleging the company violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) when it refused to allow employees with disabilities to work reduced hourly schedules as a reasonable accommodation, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced on December 20, 2010.

In addition to paying $600,000 to a group of reservations agents with disabilities, United will end its blanket policy against reduced hourly schedules and provide training to staffers who administer United’s reasonable accommodation process, according to the terms of a three-year consent decree approved by the court (EEOC v. United Airlines, C-06-01407 TSZ).

Prior to 2003, United had permitted reservations sales and service representatives to work reduced hourly schedules as an accommodation for employees’ various disabilities, including multiple sclerosis, DeQuervain’s tendinitis and carpal tunnel, and myasthenia gravis (a muscle condition).

By suddenly abolishing its long-standing practice and policy of providing reduced hourly schedules, United required all reservations sales and service representatives who could not work their full bid schedules to retire or go out on extended leave, then terminated them when their leave ran out. These policies and practices violate the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), EEOC said.

One person who had worked for United for 25 years and had a reduced-hour schedule for 23 years prior to the policy change, said, “Contributing 25 years of work, in a way compatible with my health, was positive for me, for United, and for society. A sweeping policy that disregards individual circumstances doesn’t give someone like me a chance to do my job. I took my case to the EEOC, and I’m glad to know United is going to stop its blanket policy on work hours.”

ADA protects individuals with disabilities from employment discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees and applicants with disabilities, unless the accommodation would create an undue hardship. After a neutral investigation conducted by EEOC’s Honolulu and Seattle offices and after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through conciliation, EEOC filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo says, “United conceived of this policy as a cost-cutting measure—a means of tightening the belt. However, this action did not lessen any monetary strain for the company or boost the department’s performance. Thinking creatively and flexibly to retain skilled and experienced workers would be a better survival strategy for companies than stereotyping workers with disabilities as expensive and expendable.”

EEOC San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado notes, “Decisions regarding reasonable accommodations for a disability must be made on a case-by-case basis. A blanket policy that takes options off the table by setting minimum work hours not only violates ADA but also may have a negative impact on the company’s morale, productivity, and bottom line.”

Further information about EEOC is at


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UAL Settles Discrimination Suit


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