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Americans with Disabilities Act Archives

New Lawsuit Says Subway is Not Accessible for Disabled Riders

According to a new lawsuit filed against New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is not abiding by the American with Disabilities Act in making New York City's subway system accessible to disabled riders. The class action suit filed in federal court says that subway stations are not wheelchair accessible.

Disablity Discrimination Filings on the Rise

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received more Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaints in 2009 than in any calendar year since the enactment of the law.  The EEOC, sometimes in partnership with state agencies, investigates claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on disability, age, religion, race, sex, national origin, and pregnancy.  The EEOC assigns investigators who determine whether or not there is probable or reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred.  Aggrieved employees are required to file ADA claims with the EEOC before filing a lawsuit in federal court.

EEOC Sues American Apparel on ADA Claim

Imagine that you have been diagnosed with cancer. The stress from the diagnosis, the treatment time and the recovery is more than enough to handle. Among all of this, you also do not want to lose your job over the illness's treatment. You request the appropriate amount of medical leave and provide the needed documentation to your employer, and it is approved. It feels as if the concern over work has been addressed. Now imagine, you return from medical leave and your workplace informs you that your position no longer exists.

Welder Gets Trial on Disability Discrimination Claim

Heather Spees worked as one of the few female welders at James Marine, Inc. After she became pregnant and eventually lost her job, she sued her former employer for pregnancy discrimination and disability discrimination. Ms. Spees' welding job was physically demanding and required her to lift heavy equipment, cram herself into small crevices, climb ladders, bear hot temperatures, deal with fumes and dust, and handle overhead equipment. Ms. Spees' supervisor described her as a good employee and even ribbed the male employees about how well she performed in comparison to them. After she became pregnant, her doctors and supervisors both began imposing restrictions on Ms. Spees. Her job duties were altered and her doctors eventually prescribed bed rest.  The employer ultimately made the fatal decision to tell Ms. Spees that it was firing her because she was pregnant. Ms. Spees included with her pregnancy discrimination claim a claim that the employer discriminated against her because of a disability when it transferred her to the "tool room" after learning that she was pregnant. Spees admittedly did have not a permanent disabling condition and it is well established that pregnancy alone does not constitute a disability for purposes of the ADA. So naturally, the main dispute in the disability discrimination case was whether Ms. Spees was "disabled" for purposes of the statute.

Copper company sued under ADA

The EEOC recently filed suit against KobeWieland Copper Products, LLC for refusing to hire an individual as a caster due to his actual and perceived disability. KobeWieland offered the Plaintiff the position on September 24, 2008. When he appeared for work, the Defendant’s HR specialist noticed that the Plaintiff was missing digits on his left hand. Instead of working with the Plaintiff to ensure a reasonable accommodation, the Defendant rescinded the job offer because of its concerns that the Plaintiff could not perform the job. The Plaintiff alleges that he could have performed the job with or without an accommodation, but was not even afforded the opportunity to show that he could do the work, despite offering to demonstrate that he could perform the job.

If the Plaintiff’s allegations are true, the Defendant could be held responsible for paying the Plaintiff’s back wages with interest, reinstating his employment, and paying any costs and attorneys fee he may have accrued.

Woman "Perceived as Disabled" Under ADA

Kimberly Ann Norman, a Union Pacific Railroad (“UNP”) employee, had a number of physical medical conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, requiring short term and long term disability leave in the early 2000s. As with many LTD plans, the insurance company, or in this case, UNP, questioned whether Ms. Norman’s medical conditions were due in part to mental illness, thus subjecting Norman to a limited term of benefits known as a mental illness limit. The company required Ms. Norman to undergo an independent medical examination (“IME”), which resulted in the company’s physician determining that Norman’s long term disability resulted from mental, not physical conditions.

When she was later terminated, Ms. Norman claimed discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) because UNP regarded her as mentally ill and terminated her because of the perceived disability.  Despite the fact that she did not regard herself as mentally disabled, never voluntarily sought treatment for mental disabilities, never received a second opinion from a physician confirming mental disability, and filed appeals and extensions allowing her to collect LTD benefits for her physical disabilities, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Ms. Norman’s argument.  For purposes of the ADA, Ms. Norman established an ADA-qualifying disability because the employer regarded her mentally disabled due to the findings of its own physician in Norman's LTD claim.
 
The “perceived as disabled” rule prevents employers, insurance companies, and plans from arguing in LTD cases that the employee’s disabilities are rooted in mental illness, and then turning around and arguing in an ADA discrimination case that the employee does not have an ADA-qualifying mental disability.

Two "failure to hire" Disability Discrimination Suits Resolved

On June 15, 2010, the EEOC reported that it reached an agreement with Starbucks to settle a suit for Starbucks' failure to hire Chuck Hannay, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Among other terms of the agreement, Starbucks paid $80,000 to resolve the suit. Mr. Hannay applied for one of six open barista positions at a store in Russellville, Arkansas, but the store did not contact Mr. Hannay in response to his application. It instead hired other, less experienced candidates to fill the open barista positions. Starbucks reportedly worked in a cooperative manner with the EEOC to insure that similar discrimination would not occur in the future. Failure to hire individuals with physical or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more of their major life activities is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On June 16, 2010, the EEOC issued a news release revealing that it settled a similar case against Balance Staffing. Balance's owner and manager hired Jocelyn Snower as a recruiter. When the owner learned that Ms. Snower is blind, he immediately revoked the job offer, despite the fact that Ms. Snower is an experienced recruiter. This is an example of "direct" disability discrimination, which is unlawful under the ADA.  In order to resolve the suit, Balance was forced to pay $100,000 and the owner was compelled to enter ongoing EEO training.  Individuals who are subjected to such adverse treatment should contact an employment lawyer and the EEOC.



Airline Settles Disability Discrimination Suit

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and Pinnacle Airlines recently settled a lawsuit against the airline for disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). According to the EEOC, the airline terminated Vickie Cowie because she walked too slowly.  A short time after commencing her employment with the airline as an administrative employee, working primarily behind a desk, Ms. Cowie saw her doctor about pain in her knee. Her physician diagnosed her with arthritis.  Cowie continued working and performed her job competently, despite the fact that the arthritis caused her to walk with a limp and use a cane. The EEOC filed suit on Ms. Cowie's behalf, alleging that the airline terminated her because the pace of her gait was too slow.  Rather than trying the case in court, the airline agreed to enter a public settlement agreement. As a part of the agreement, the airline paid Ms. Cowie $20,000 and agreed to reform its human resources policies and procedures.  Employees who are treated unfairly because of their disabilities should contact an employment lawyer immediately and file a charge with the EEOC within 180 days of the adverse treatment.

Employers Must Provide Reasonable Accommodations for Disabled Workers to get to Work

During her employment as a cashier with Rite-Aid, Jeanette Colwell became blind in one eye due to a medical condition completely unrelated to her employment. Ms. Colwell informed her supervisors that it became difficult for her to drive at night due to her blindness and provided a note from her doctor regarding the same. Her supervisor, however, refused to schedule her exclusively during the day because the supervisor felt it would be unfair to other employees. Ms. Colwell eventually resigned her employment by submitting a note indicating that she felt she was treated unfairly.

Ms. Colwell brought suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act "ADA" and the state equivalent. She argued that Rite-Aid constructively discharged her, failed to accommodate her blindness, and retaliated against her because of her disability. The parties agreed that Ms. Colwell did not require an accommodation once she arrived in the workplace, and the District Court therefore found that Rite-Aid did not fail to accommodate Colwell's disability. Colwell’s constructive discharge and retaliation claims were also summarily dismissed by the lower federal court.
On Colwell’s appeal, Rite-Aid argued that it had no duty to even consider changing Ms. Colwell's shift because Colwell's difficulties amounted to a commuting problem unrelated to the workplace, and the ADA does not require employers to accommdate such issues. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and held that changing Ms. Colwell's working schedule to day shifts in order to alleviate her disability-related difficulties in getting to work is a type of accommodation that the ADA contemplates, even though it was technically outside of the workplace and working hours.  Employers are required under the ADA to provide reasonable accommdations to help alleviate their disabled employees' difficulties in getting to work, so employees should readily communicate those needs to their employers in order to intiate the process of accommodation.

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