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Federal agency sues M&T over disability bias by Hudson City Bank

M&T Bank is the target of a lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over alleged violations of federal disability discrimination law by a bank that M&T bought.

The allegations center on employment policies at New Jersey-based Hudson City Savings Bank, which M&T acquired in 2015. The EEOC contends Buffalo-based M&T assumed liability for the alleged violations through the purchase.

The EEOC said it filed suit in federal court in New York City after attempting to reach a pre-trial settlement with M&T.

M&T issued a statement noting the allegations against Hudson City took place before the acquisition.

"We have been, and remain, committed to an appropriate resolution of this issue and are disappointed the (EEOC) decided to proceed with litigation," according to the M&T statement.

The EEOC alleged Hudson City failed to accommodate branch employees who notified the bank of a disability or a need for accommodation, and that Hudson City instead required them to either provide a certification from a medical provider stating they could work with "no restrictions" or else be placed on leave. In the lawsuit, the EEOC claims Hudson City adhered to that policy from before 2002 and until at least the bank's purchase by M&T.

"Employees who did not provide a clearance soon enough were discharged," the EEOC said in a statement.

The EEOC cited the example of a Westchester County branch employee who was prescribed a walker boot for a medical condition. The commission alleged Hudson City required her to take involuntary leave instead of wearing the boot at work and that when her condition did not improve after 26 weeks of leave, she was terminated. The EEOC said that violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.

"The purpose of the (ADA) is to ensure that qualified employees will not be prevented from earning a living because of unfounded assumptions about their disabilities," said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for the EEOC's New York District, in a statement. "Employers may not force employees who are perfectly capable of fulfilling their job duties to leave work because of their disabilities or demand medical certifications unrelated to their jobs as a condition of employment."

In the lawsuit, the EEOC said Hudson City's operations and most of its branch supervisory employees were absorbed by M&T through the acquisition. The commission also claims M&T "knew or should have known" about the discrimination allegations, because they were pending at the time of the deal. It also said M&T "failed to correct" Hudson City's allegedly unlawful employment practices.

"In addition, a (Hudson City) executive who knew of the [discrimination] charge and the allegations under the EEOC investigation prior to the acquisition was retained as an executive by M&T," the EEOC said in the suit.

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