But first – a settlement of what we call a “shooting fish in a barrel lawsuit” – that is, a lawsuit brought by the EEOC against medical or health providers for allegedly committing disability discrimination. A large California disability services provider has settled an EEOC lawsuit for $130,000 brought on behalf of a job applicant who was refused hiring as an instructor because she had partial paralysis in her left hand. Having applied for the job at the encouragement of company employee who thought she would work well with people with developmental disabilities, she had her offer withdrawn when she disclosed her own disability during her pre-employment physical exam, even though she had successfully completed all other tests “and was cleared to do the job by [the employer’s] own occupational health provider.”
Predictably, an EEOC attorney said that “When a county disability services provider commits obvious disability discrimination, that shows the crying need for the ADA and for the EEOC to enforce it.”
Now, back to the new lawsuits, one of which involves prohibited questions of job applicants and firing employees with disabilities, and the other a policy of firing disabled employees without considering requests for accommodation.
First, the EEOC sued a Connecticut grocery chain which asked job applicants disability-related questions such as “Do you have any health problems?” and at job interviews asked applicants whether they had any health problems, physical problems, were on any medications, and which ones. Bad enough, but the company also fired an employee with epilepsy a few days after the employee had a seizure at work, despite the employee having performed his job successfully and presenting medical documentation indicating he was capable of returning to his normal work day.”
“One of the reasons why the ADA prohibits employers from subjecting employees to disability-related inquiries,” said an EEOC attorney, “is to protect employees from actions based on harmful and unfounded stereotypes about medical conditions.”
The second case was filed against an Arizona trucking company whose policy was to automatically fire employees after medical leave without considering or offering possible reasonable accommodations. In this case, an employee with a rare eye disease which substantially limited her eyesight needed many corrective eye surgeries. While on FMLA leave the company informed her that if she was not released to “full, unrestricted duty” by her doctor she might be fired, and when she requested more time to recuperate she was fired
The EEOC stated: “Once an employee asks for a reasonable accommodation, the employer is required to engage in an interactive process to see if there are ways that the employee can be accommodated, rather than simply firing the employee. We will continue to vigorously pursue our mission of fighting employment discrimination on all fronts. Employers have a legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations unless there is an undue hardship.”