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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 9:22 a.m., Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hawai'i United workers allege disability discrimination

Associated Press

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued United Airlines today for alleged disability discrimination, accusing it of unjustly firing three employees from who were physically unable to meet its new requirement for a minimum 30-hour work week.

The agency filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle on behalf of reservation staff in Honolulu and Seattle and a potential class of employees nationwide, saying the carrier's policy on minimum working hours violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the complaint, long-time United employees Maria Lovell and Shelly Kia from the Honolulu office and Janet Lawhead from its Seattle office were forced out of their jobs in 2003 when the company imposed the 30-hour minimum rule. It said United required all reservation sales and service representatives who could not work the minimum hours to either retire or go on leave, and dismissed them when their leave expired.

Joan Ehrlich, director of the EEOC's San Francisco district, said the women had worked for United from 15 to nearly 30 years and had been allowed to work 20-hour work weeks since the 1980s to help accommodate their disabilities, which included multiple sclerosis, tendinitis and carpal tunnel.

"Instead of making a good-faith effort to accommodate employees with disabilities as required by the ADA, United implemented a policy that simply jettisoned long-time workers," Ehrlich said in a news release.

United, based in Elk Grove Village, Ill., did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.