EEOC Sues Pharmaceutical Giant for Terminating Female Employee Disabled by Post-Partum Depression

On September 30, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation (“Amerisource”) for terminating Meron Debru, and failing to provide reasonable accommodation for her pregnancy-related disability, and ultimately terminating her employment, in violation of both the http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/disability/ada.htm (ADA) and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

The Commission claims in its complaint that Ms. Debru, a Reimbursement Case Advocate in the company’s Rockville, Maryland facility, was granted leave for the birth of her child, from April 25 through June 6, 2012. However, on June 6 her doctor did not release her to return to work, citing concerns about possible post-partum depression. She was referred her to a Professional Counselor, who confirmed the doctor’s suspicion by diagnosing Debru with post-partum depression. She then informed the company that she could not return to work, and would take additional unpaid leave.

When she did not return to work on July 15, 2012, the company filled Debru’s position. Then on August 1, 2012 they sent a letter informing her that she was terminated, effective August 1, 2012, because she had exhausted her six months of leave under the FMLA. She then informed them that they had been incorrect, since she had not actually taken more than six months of leave, and that she had post-partum depression.

The company then sent Debru another letter stating that she had exhausted her leave, but could apply for open positions. Then on August 14 they reinstated her short-term disability benefits through September 5, 2012. On September 5 she was released to return to work, but Amerisource did not return her to her previous position; instead, she applied for three other positions at the company. She was qualified for each of these positions, but was offered none of them. The EEOC argues that the company was obligated under the ADA to offer Debru accommodation, leave, or reassignment; instead, they terminated her because of her disability.

Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., district director of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office, comments that “While pregnancy itself is not a disability under the ADA, some women develop pregnancy-related disabilities, such as post-partum depression, and are entitled to reasonable accommodations unless the employer can prove that doing so would be a significant expense or difficulty.

Debra M. Lawrence, EEOC Regional Attorney, sums up the Commission’s reasoning about this case, and the lesson they want employers to take from it: “It is incumbent on employers to provide reasonable accommodations for women who need them due to pregnancy-related disabilities, such as extending unpaid leave or trasferring the employee to a vacant position for which she is qualified. Forcing an employee to try to find a new position within the company on her own does not meet the company’s affirmative obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation by transferring her to a vacant job.”

Given the size, scale, and resources of the company, presumably it will be difficult for them to argue that accommodating Ms. Debru’s pregnancy-related disability would have imposed an undue hardship. After all, they only would have had to move her to one of the two available positions in which she had expressed interest.

If you believe your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act were violated by your employer, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.