Amazon allegedly fired a call center employee in Kentucky for “stealing time,” due to access to restroom needs stemming from the employee’s Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s disease is a painful inflammatory bowel condition that can require immediate access to a restroom. It’s protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and a specific law exists that requires restrooms not ordinarily available to the public be made available to Crohn’s patients.
Despite this, there is still pervasive stigma around inflammatory bowel diseases.
Given the ADA’s recognition of Crohn’s disease, the fired employee filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Lexington, Kentucky. Nicholas Stover requested accommodations for his disease but was denied by his supervisor, the complaint alleges.
While Amazon has not commented on Stover’s specific case, following similar complaints last year the online retail Goliath said “We do not monitor toilet breaks.”
The accommodation Stover sought is both a reasonable and fairly common one — it literally is the example used in the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s factsheet for employment and ADA compliance.
Disability law experts told the Seattle Times that on its face, Stover’s request should’ve been honored, but weren’t sure the policies were as widespread as Stover claimed from just a reading of his complaint, leaving open the possibility that the refusal to accommodate was the discretion of a particular manager.
According to the complaint, when Stover requested his accommodation he was told by human resources that if they made an exception for him, they would have to make one for everyone (which isn’t at all how the ADA works). He also accuses Amazon of denying him scheduled time off for a routine medical procedure to treat his Crohn’s disease, which is protected under the Family Medical Leave Act.
Amazon is alleged to be making an argument that ADA compliance amounts to time theft — essentially that accommodating a disability means substandard performance from workers. But that’s not the purpose of ADA accommodations.
“What the [ADA] did not do was to remove attitudinal barriers. You can make explicit discrimination illegal, but you can’t change people’s hearts and minds,” said Philip Kahn-Pauli, policy and practices director of RespectAbility.
And in dealing with that stigma, Stover is far from alone. Despite great strides achieved by the ADA, employment for disabled Americans remains well below the national average. Job-seekers with disabilities receive 26 percent fewer communications from prospective employers.
And while a number of factors may trigger flare-ups of Crohn’s disease, the cause remains unknown. As do causes for countless disabilities — countless more are the result of no fault of the disabled. Yet still, accommodation is something workplaces resist.
“We are the only minority group that anyone can join at any time due to accident, illness or aging,” said Kahn-Pauli.
It’s a bitter irony that while an Amazon employee wasn’t allowed access to a restroom he needed, Amazon’s founder has 25 restrooms handy.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.