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EEOC case settles; company pays for discrimination in hiring

When we hear the word "disability," we tend to think of disabilities that are obvious. We know that a person in a wheelchair or a person with a white cane has a disability. There are, though, less obvious types of disability that we may not notice right away: mood disorders or chronic diseases, for example. Congress understood this when crafting the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life functions. A Milwaukee businessman who is legally blind, for example, may socialize and interact with others without anyone recognizing that he has a disability. Nonetheless, he is covered by the ADA.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently settled a case that involved a man with a vision impairment. He had applied for a job with a telecommunications and engineering company, and he was offered the job. The man claimed the company withdrew the job offer when it discovered he had the disability.

His condition is congenital ocular albinism. His eyes lack the melanin pigment that protects against damage caused by UV-radiation, among other things. The result can be a number of vision problems that can take years to develop. In this man's case, the problems substantially limited his ability to see.

The company withdrew its offer because the man can't drive. He can't drive because of his disability. Driving is considered a major life function. Without admitting to a violation of the ADA, the company settled the case for $45,000.

The broad outline of the case does not include an explanation of why driving was important to the company. Driving would be a necessary skill -- or what the law calls a "bona fide occupational qualification" -- for a taxi driver. A driver's license would not be a BFOQ for a receptionist or a telemarketer, jobs that don't require visits to customers or trips on behalf of the employer.

Source: Business Insurance, "EEOC settles lawsuit on behalf of vision-impaired job applicant," Judy Greenwald, July 11, 2012

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