$100,000 in Disability Discrimination Lawsuit For Termination Based on Perceived Disability, Training Ordered

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Question:  Would discrimination training have prevented this case?  See our trainings at http://www.hrclassroom.com.

ENGlobal, a Beaumont-based engineering firm, will pay $100,000 and provide additional remedial relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  The EEOC had charged ENGlobal Engineering, Inc, also known as ENGlobal U.S., Inc., with unlawfully firing an employee because it mistakenly assumed he had multiple sclerosis (MS) that would substantially limit his ability to work. 

According to the EEOC’s suit, (Civil Action No. 1:10-cv-514, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Beaumont Division) Jeffery Rose was employed as the regional safety supervisor at ENGlobal’s Beaumont facility.  Soon after starting his job, he began experiencing numbness and tingling in his extremities.  Rose sought medical tests to determine the cause of the symptoms.  He informed his immediate supervisor, the regional safety manager, of the symptoms, his doctor’s visits, and medical tests.  He also told the regional safety manager that the doctors believed he may have MS. 

The regional safety manager was a part-time paramedic who claimed to be familiar with MS.  Upon learning of the potential MS, the regional safety manager recruited someone else for Rose’s position and urged him to take medical leave, telling him that MS is “very debilitating” and that he did not think the company would “want to deal with” his disease.  Rose followed his supervisor’s advice and took medical leave.  However, when Rose obtained from his doctor full medical clearance to return to work without any restrictions, ENGlobal’s human resources manager refused to honor it, stating that Rose’s position was no longer available, despite the fact that it was available and remained so until the company hired someone else for the position approximately two weeks later. 

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects people against discrimination because of perceived disabilities as well as actual ones.  The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  Rose was also represented in an individual capacity by Houston-based employment lawyer Ian Scharfman.

Under the terms of the consent decree settling the suit, ENGlobal will pay $100,000 in relief, including fees and expenses, to compensate Rose.  Additionally, the company will post a copy of its anti-discrimination policy at its facility; provide training to all its directors, executives, managers, and supervisors on the ADA and all federal anti-discrimination laws; and notify all employees that the EEOC determined the company violated the law and that it is committed to upholding the laws and respect employee rights.

“We hope this settlement sends a clear message to all employers that decision making based on myths, fears and stereotypes about physical conditions, rather than on objective analysis of a person’s actual capabilities, constitutes disability discrimination and it is a violation of federal law,” said EEOC Houston Regional Attorney Jim Sacher. “The ADA requires that all employees be given equal opportunity to jobs regardless of actual or perceived disabilities.  The EEOC is pleased that this settlement provides training about the ADA’s requirements to all managers and employees with supervisory responsibility.”

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