Pilgrim's Pride has agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Pilgrim's Pride failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee by not excusing his disability-related absences. The employee, who worked at Pilgrim's Pride's Guntersville, Alabama facility, allegedly requested and was granted leave to cover absences due to heart surgery. When he attempted to return to work, however, the company allegedly claimed he had not been granted leave and fired him for violating the company's attendance policy.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities, including granting unpaid leave, unless doing so presents an undue hardship to the employer.

The EEOC filed the suit (EEOC v. Pilgrim's Pride Corporation, Civil Action No.4:18-cv-01570) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, after first attempting to reach a voluntary, pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to the $50,000 in monetary relief, the four-year consent decree prohibits Pilgrim's Pride from subjecting any employee to disability discrimination in the future.  Pilgrim's Pride must also take specified actions designed to prevent future discrimination, including issuing written notice to employees of their rights under the ADA to a reasonable accommodation in the company's leave information packet; a requirement Pilgrim's Pride will not assign points for attendance-related issues when an employee is absent or tardy due to known disability-related reasons; developing and communicating company policies designed to ensure a discrimination-free workplace; and providing annual anti-discrimination training to all supervisors, managers, and other employees at the company's Guntersville, Alabama, facility.

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"We commend Pilgrim's Pride for its willingness to settle this case, which contained serious allegations of discrimination, early in the litigation process," said EEOC Birmingham Regional Attorney Marsha Rucker. "The significant monetary award and the corrective measures in this decree should prevent this kind of alleged misconduct from happening in the future."

The EEOC's Birmingham District consists of Alabama, Mississippi (except 17 northern counties) and the Florida Panhandle.

Pilgrim’s Pride’s Guntersville facility was the winner of the 2018 U.S. Poultry & Egg Association Clean Water Award for the partial treatment category.

Pilgrim’s Pride is the second largest poultry company in the United States. It also has operations in Mexico, and operates a European subsidiary, Moy Park.