Total Systems of Columbus sued for disability discrimination during COVID

EEOC says company retaliated against employee, denying her request to work remotely like her co-workers

A federal agency has filed suit against Total Systems Services, alleging that the Columbus, Georgia-based payment processor violated the law in its treatment of a disabled employee during the height of the pandemic.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, asks that the company be compelled to pay the former employee back wages and other compensation, including punitive damages.

The company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Marcus Keegan, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta District Office. “The ADA requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities — and this is not a suggestion.”

Before filing the suit, the EEOC said it tried first to reach a settlement between Total Systems and the former employee.

In a written statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a company spokesperson denied the allegations.

“The facts as alleged are incorrect and TSYS intends to vigorously defend against this frivolous litigation,” the statement said. “TSYS is very proud of its record, especially the outstanding dedication of our thousands of team members. We look forward to the airing of those facts as part of the judicial process.”

According to the EEOC’s suit, the former employee — who had a disability — had been working as a customer service representative at a Total Systems call center in 2020. At the time, COVID-19 was killing thousands of Americans each week and there was not yet a vaccine to offer any protection.

Moreover, people with pre-existing health problems were considered to be at substantially higher risk from the disease.

The EEOC did not release the name of the former employee or provide more information about the amount of money being requested in court. The EEOC also did not provide information about the type of disability that the woman had.

But in a statement, the EEOC said the former employee did everything she could to both protect her health and do her job.

In mid-2020, on the advice of her physician, the woman asked to work remotely because of her high-risk health status. At the time, her call center co-workers were “regularly testing positive for the virus,” according to a statement from the EEOC.

Total Systems denied the request, the EEOC said.

The woman took medical leave that lasted until July 2020. At that point, most of her department was working remotely, but the company continued to deny her request to do so as well, the EEOC said.

The employee, motivated by health concerns, resigned in August 2020, the EEOC said.

The company’s actions amount to retaliation against the woman, which triggers a legal request for payment of more damages, Keegan said. “Employers who retaliate against employees for exercising their rights under the ADA, as Total Systems did here, expose themselves to additional liability under the statute.”