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Hotel clerk files ADA suit alleging she was fired for oxygen tank

A disability discrimination lawsuit filed by a Chicago area motel employee under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) should be a lesson to employers in Los Angeles and elsewhere about accommodating disabled workers who can and want to work. The plaintiff says she was terminated from her job as an overnight desk clerk because she needed a small oxygen tank.

The 51-year-old woman worked at a small inn in Oregon, Illinois, near Castle Rock State Park, a popular tourist attraction outside of Chicago. In 2011, when her asthma and other respiratory conditions became worse, her doctors instructed her to use an oxygen tank to help her breathe. She obtained a small portable tank that she wore using a shoulder strap. She says it was light enough to be able to wear while she straightened the reception area, prepared breakfast, and did other tasks required during her shift, and could remove the hose when dealing with guests.

She was never given the opportunity to do that. The woman was fired the day after she told her manager about the tank. According to the termination letter, she was dismissed because she had not arranged for someone to take her place while she was hospitalized, and because she could not work while she was on oxygen. Her manager reiterated, via phone and text, the assumption that she could not work while using the tank. The plaintiff says there was no discussion with her about whether she could perform her duties, which she felt certain she could.

The woman, who has since developed cancer, is seeking back pay with interest, plus overtime pay that she never received. However, she says that her priority is that the inn makes changes to their policy so that this does not happen to other employees.

There is a great deal of ignorance surrounding just about every disability. That is why laws and legal advocates are needed to ensure that such ignorance does not prevent people from being allowed to work if they are able to do, and to require employers to make reasonable accommodations. Fortunately for this plaintiff's case, the employers at this inn put their faulty assumptions in writing. Most are too smart to do that. They need to be held accountable nonetheless.

The Chicago Tribune, "Lawsuit: Hotel desk clerk fired for needing oxygen tank" Jason Meisner, Oct. 04, 2013

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