Department store chain Dillard's Inc. has agreed to pay $2 million to settle a class-action lawsuit accusing the retailer of breaking federal disability laws by requiring workers seeking sick leave to disclose private medical conditions.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it started its investigation after a Dillard's worker in El Centro in Southern California's Imperial County alleged she was fired in 2006 for refusing to reveal her exact medical problems to a manager who would not accept her doctor's note.
"The assistant manager said [the doctor's note] doesn't say what's wrong with you," said Corina Scott, a former Dillard's cosmetics clerk. "I firmly refused to tell, and she said, 'OK, you're terminated.' "
The EEOC alleges that Dillard's implemented a nationwide policy in 2005 that affected thousands of workers, requiring those asking for excused absences for illness to not only give a doctor's note but also disclose the medical condition they were being treated for. That violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects workers from being forced to disclose private medical information, the commission said.
Anna Park, the commission's regional attorney, said some workers felt they had no choice but to reveal extremely personal problems such as cancer and mental illnesses.
Quiz: Do you know your premium jeans?
"People felt obliged to do it just to keep their jobs," Park said.
The commission said it also investigated complaints that Dillard's fired workers for taking more sick leave than the maximum number of days allowed by the retailer, which also violated federal disability discrimination laws.
As part of the settlement, Dillard's not only agreed to pay $2 million to compensate workers affected but also to hire a consultant to review and revise its employment policy.