Confidentiality at issue in ADA case

A 2015 EEOC lawsuit may cause Wisconsin employers to take note of communications with employees in cases involving potential discrimination investigations. The case that brings this concern to light involves an electrician working for an engineering and construction company. The firm reportedly terminated the man because of his disability, failing to provide reasonable accommodations. He subsequently filed a complaint with the EEOC.

Reports indicate that the EEOC requested contact information of other electricians who had worked with the company in the same time frame as the party making the complaint. The company, however, notified nearly 150 employees through letters, which identified numerous personal details about the case. These included the nature of the discrimination charge and disclosure of the former employee’s work restrictions.

As the case went to court, the company argued that there was no adverse action against the former employee because these letters were sent at a time when he was not employed. Further, the company suggested that there was not evidence of this letter being related to the ADA action. However, the court disagreed with both of these arguments, noting that the timing and nature of the letter were retaliatory and harmed employees who might feel intimidated about responding to the questions of investigators.

Employers might advise their employees of a potential investigation and their rights during such a process. However, the disclosure of personal details about an employee who has filed a complaint might be considered disability discrimination if the situation revolves around issues such as a request for reasonable accommodations.

An individual who has dealt with an adverse work environment because of a disability might find that an employer becomes contentious over requests for reasonable accommodations. In some cases, legal counsel might be helpful for determining whether the situation is serious enough to warrant a complaint to the EEOC.

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