Disability discrimination occurs when an employer treats a person with a disability who is an employee or applicant unfavorably because she/he has a disability. It is also illegal to harass an applicant or employee because of a disability,
Rite Aid, a large U.S. drug store chain found out the hard way and was recently ordered to pay $250,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability and retaliation discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC. The adverse and illegal actions taken against their employee, a pharmacy order picker, included:
- termination because of his disability, epilepsy, despite working at the facility for 10 years without serious injury to himself, or any injury to coworkers caused by his seizures;
- retaliation because he had previously filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC alleging that he had been denied promotions because of his disability; and,
- failure to consider whether reasonable accommodations could have eliminated or reduced any alleged safety concerns related to the epilepsy.
The EEOC said that after it issued an administrative finding in the employee’s favor, Rite Aid retaliated against him and forced their employee, under threat of termination, to undergo a fitness-for-duty examination with an occupational health doctor who had no experience treating individuals with epilepsy. The EEOC said Rite Aid improperly used the opinion of this doctor to remove the employee from his employment and ignored numerous medical releases from his neurologist, an epilepsy specialist at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.
This type of conduct is considered disability discrimination. The ADA requires employers to undertake a rigorous assessment of whether an employee with a disability poses a safety threat in the workplace. The EEOC's regulations state that an employer's direct threat assessment must be "based on a reasonable medical judgment that relies on the most current medical knowledge and/or on the best available objective evidence." The ADA also prohibits employers from firing or otherwise taking adverse actions because an employee filed a discrimination charge.
In addition to the $250,000 in monetary relief to the employee, Rite Aid must:
- Revise its policies to ensure that a) reasonable accommodations are considered, when necessary; b) individuals with disabilities aren’t fired because of their protected status; c) employees aren’t required to undergo medical examinations that aren’t job-related or consistent with business necessity; and d) retaliation against employees who complain about discrimination doesn’t happen.
- Provide ADA training for managers and all persons responsible for the reasonable accommodation process at the Rite Aid facility where this occurred.
- Post notice regarding the resolution of the lawsuit.
- Report to the EEOC on its compliance with the consent decree.
Springboard frequently helps its clients navigate the ADA maze by reviewing existing policies/procedures and offering practical guidance about revisions which may be necessary. Springboard also provides customized staff training that speaks to the EEOC’s concerns in this settlement agreement so that companies can attract and retain top talent from applicants and employees with disabilities.
This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.