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How one rude employee can spark a disability lawsuit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Employees can get frustrated. Sometimes, they even act rudely. But a new ruling highlights a legal risk you may not have thought about: An employee’s rude treatment can quickly turn into an ADA lawsuit if the customer is disabled.

Case in Point: Alice Camarillo is legally blind and can only read large type that’s close to her face. At a fast-food restaurant she frequents, Camarillo told employees of her sight problem and asked them to read the menus to her.

The response? Camarillo claimed she was regularly “made fun of and forced to wait until other customers behind her in line were served.” She filed an ADA lawsuit.

The restaurant argued that it wasn’t liable because the ADA doesn’t protect against rude employees. But the court rejected that defense and sent the case to trial, saying this was more than just an issue of rudeness. 

The court said, “Rather, defendants failed to adopt policies or procedures to effectively train their employees how to deal with disabled individuals. Such a failure to train can constitute a violation of the ADA.” (Camarillo v. Carrols Corporation, 2nd Cir.)

3 Lessons Learned

1. Don’t let training slide. To avoid liability, all employees need to be effectively trained on anti-discrimination laws. “Failure to train” lawsuits are growing as courts look to employers’ training programs for compliance under federal laws.

2. Customer service is about compliance, too. As part of customer service training, teach practical skills on interacting with customers who have disabilities.

3. Extend your policy to third parties. Your anti-discrimination policy doesn’t apply only to your employees. It also applies to third parties, including customers, clients, vendors, etc. Communicate that throughout your organization.
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Mindy Chapman is an attorney and president of Mindy Chapman & Associates LLC. She is a master trainer, keynote speaker and co-author of the ABA book,
Case Dismissed! Taking Your Harassment Prevention Training to Trial. 

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