EEOC sues Denny's over disability policy

BUSINESS DIGEST

September 29, 2006|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN REPORTER

In a case that originated at a Baltimore outlet, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said yesterday that it has filed a discrimination lawsuit against Denny's restaurants on behalf of former workers nationwide who have disabilities.

The lawsuit claims Denny's failed to provide reasonable accommodation for Paula Hart, a former manager at a restaurant near Fullerton, under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hart, who suffered a leg amputation, was prohibited from returning to work and subsequently fired in May 2003 when her medical leave expired, according to the EEOC.

At issue is Denny's medical leave policy, which limits absences to a maximum of 26 weeks, and in some cases 12 weeks, even when disabled workers are allowed additional leave under the federal law, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The EEOC claims the company's practice violated the rights of unidentified disabled workers at Denny's who were denied medical leave and fired.

Denny's, based in Spartanburg, S.C., said the lawsuit is based on "unfounded accusations." The company said in a statement that Hart's employment ended because she was "no longer able to perform the essential functions of her job, or another available position in our restaurants, even with a reasonable accommodation."

"With respect to the commission's request for nationwide relief, Denny's does not pursue policies or engage in practices that discriminate or deny employment opportunities to persons with disabilities," the company said.

Denny's operates more than 1,500 company-owned and franchise restaurants in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

hanah.cho@baltsun.com

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