On July 6, 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that they had settled the largest disability discrimination case in the agency’s history. The settlement was with Verizon over disciplinary actions and firings that Verizon had taken against employees who were disabled.

This case is one of many disability discrimination cases that show the importance of speaking up against illegal employment actions by talking to a workplace discrimination lawyer or contacting the EEOC directly.

As the settlement explains, the employees affected had accumulated too many “chargeable absences” under Verizon’s attendance policy, which resulted in Verizon disciplining or firing them. But as the EEOC points out, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires companies to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, which the EEOC says Verizon did not do.

The settlement requires Verizon to create a settlement fund of $20 million to pay claims to a number of Verizon employees who had filed complaints with the EEOC, as well as any other former Verizon employees who were discharged for similar reasons after January 1, 2004.

In addition to monetary payments to affected employees, Verizon will also have to revise its attendance policies — including excusing certain types of absences — and cannot engage in any further discrimination or retaliation based on disability. For its part, Verizon claims that the settlement offers important guidance from the EEOC, which Verizon says it did not previously have.

EEOC’s Response to Workplace Discrimination Complaints

The Verizon discrimination case illustrates how the EEOC responds to complaints from employees who have faced workplace discrimination. The EEOC handles complaints stemming from federal laws such as the ADA, as well as the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Other laws governing employment rights vary from state to state, and are not handled by the EEOC.

If you feel you have been discriminated against in the workplace, talk to an experienced employment law attorney, who can advise you on your legal rights under both federal and state law, and the best way to hold your company responsible.