The ADA was enacted to stop employers from refusing to hire or firing qualified employees based on fears, myths or stereotypes about their disabilities.
In addition to the protections against retaliation that are included in all of the laws enforced by EEOC, the ADA also protects individuals from coercion, intimidation, threat, harassment, or interference in their exercise of their own rights or their encouragement of someone else's exercise of rights granted by the ADA.
Fidelity Engineering Corporation, a leading provider of mechanical heating, ventilation and air conditioning services in the Mid-Atlantic area, learned the hard way when it fired an employee because of his disability. The situation was intensified when the company later unlawfully refused to rehire him because of his disability and in retaliation for filing a charge of discrimination.
This six-year employee worked as a sheet metal mechanic when he developed endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart. Following valve replacement surgery in Sept. 2010, he was medically released to return to work in Jan. 2011. Despite his record of good job performance, the company refused to allow him to return to work because of his disability, the EEOC said. Instead, the employer fired him on Feb. 4, 2011, stating in the termination letter, "Given the nature of his job as a Sheet Metal Mechanic, it is too risky to allow him to return to his previous line of work."
Even though the employee's doctor had released him to return to work with no restrictions, Fidelity claimed in its notice of discharge that he was "unable to return to job as a Sheet Metal Mechanic due to ongoing medical condition."
What about exploring possible accommodations you ask? Good question. Fidelity Engineering also violated the ADA when it fired him instead of engaging in the interactive process & exploring the possibility of transferring its employee to a vacant position as a reasonable accommodation for his disability.
The EEOC further alleged that in May 2012, Fidelity Engineering refused to rehire this employee for a vacant sheet metal position for which he was qualified at its Beltsville, Md., location because of his disability and in retaliation for his filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC.
Remember the requirement to keep disability information confidential? The EEOC further claimed that the company violated federal law by failing to keep personnel and medical records separate.
And remember the requirement for alleging safety issues? The ADA also 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." Decisions cannot rely on what an employer "thinks" might be risky.
In its lawsuit, the EEOC seeks:
a) Injunctive relief prohibiting Fidelity Engineering from engaging in any further employment practice that discriminates on the basis of disability or retaliation;
b) Equitable relief that provides equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities; and,
c) Lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages and other affirmative relief for the employee.
Remember, the EEOC states that retaliation occurs when an employer takes an adverse action against a person with a disability. Examples of adverse actions include employment actions such as termination, refusal to hire, and denial of promotion.
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.