The EEOC filed a lawsuit last year which alleged that a leading health care provider in Maryland violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation and then firing a pulmonary function technologist because she suffers from Usher’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder that impairs hearing and vision.
The EEOC alleged that the company perceived that the employee’s disability interfered with her safely performing her job duties — after she worked there for almost 19 years. She was removed from her responsibilities and then fired, even though there was “a suitable vacant position as a reasonable accommodation.”
It was just announced that the health care provider agreed to settle the action – for $180,000. (We won’t bore you again with our “shooting fish in a barrel” mantra).
The EEOC stated that “Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), which requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation, including reassignment to a vacant position, unless the employer can prove it would be an undue hardship.”
What Is Perception of Disability?
Employers must be aware – but many are not – that the ADA prohibits making an adverse determination about an employee – such as termination — not only based upon a disability or record of disability, but also because the employer perceives the employee to be disabled.
As an EEOC trial attorney stated in another case: “[E]mployers should not make decisions based on perceptions about someone’s supposed impairment. … the ADA requires employers to make an individualized assessment about an applicant or employee’s ability to do the job instead of acting out of speculative fears or biases.” Another EEOC attorney said that “speculation and fears over … perceived disability … is exactly the type of discrimination the ADA was meant to address and stop.”