EEOC-Initiated Litigation - 2023 Edition

46 | EEOC-INITIATED LITIGATION: 2023 EDITION ©2023 Seyfarth Shaw LLP rather than simply reassigning disabled employees into positions for which they are qualified. Regarding the latter, this legal issue is a hotly contested one across Circuit Courts. The court deemed it premature to reject it on the pleadings, criticizing Geisinger’s reliance on only summary judgment cases as grounds for dismissal. As to Title V of the ADA, the court first noted the “scant case law” on ADA interference claims pursued under Title V. Indeed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has not yet ruled on what a plaintiff must plead to state such a claim. The court first recognized that courts in other circuits utilize the test for anti-interference claims under the Fair Housing Act, and in turn, the Third Circuit “has held that under the FHA, courts should give the word ‘interference’ its dictionary definition: ‘the act of meddling in or hampering an activity or process.’” Without explicitly holding that such a test should apply, the court found that the EEOC sufficiently pled that Geisinger interfered with Centerline’s rights under the ADA. Specifically, the EEOC alleged that Geisinger maintained records of associates with references such as “litigation hold” to individuals who engaged in protected activity or sought a reasonable accommodation. Further, the EEOC alleged that those records are “readily available to Geisinger personnel who may be involved in hiring or rehiring decisions.” The EEOC also alleged that Geisinger told Casterline to reapply for her own position, but then removed the job posting before she had a chance to submit her application. According to the Court, the EEOC’s allegations raised an “inference that Geisinger ‘meddles’ when employees attempt to exercise their rights under the ADA.” In making this determination, the court cited the 2021 case in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania of Piotrowski v. Signature Collision Centers LLC, which analyzed whether the plaintiff stated a plausible ADA interference claim by determining whether the allegations supported that the defendant meddled with the plaintiff’s exercise of his ADA rights. The court in Piotrowski found that the plaintiff alleged conduct that met this definition, including that each time he gave his employer a doctor’s note, the defendant “moved the goalposts and asked for more information.” The defendant allegedly did that “even though the ADA does not require any magic words to invoke its rights.” This alone was enough to state an ADA Title V interference claim. Employers should take particular note of the court’s decision to uphold the ADA Title V claim. Given its success in Geisinger Health —perhaps in part due to the underdeveloped nature of such claims—employers should be careful that their policies and practices cannot be construed as “meddling” when employees attempt to assert ADA-protected rights. As demonstrated in Geisinger Health and Piotrowski, the standard for stating a claim under Title V is relatively low at present. For example, under Piotrowski, an interference claim can survive a motion to dismiss if an employee merely alleges that his or her employer “asked for more information” than a doctor’s note before granting the employee’s ADA-related request. And under Geisinger Health, it appears that noting an employee’s needs or request for an accommodation could alone be problematic, especially if decision makers involved in hiring have access to such files. Though Geisinger allegedly removed the job posting after encouraging Casterline to reapply, one could imagine a situation where this could happen unintentionally or as a result of a miscommunication. As emphasized by this ruling, such mishaps could, ultimately, result in Title V ADA litigation.