multiple cases this year, the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has
taken action against employers for alleged
discrimination in cases involving disabled
Although the total number of cases filed against
employers in 2014 was down slightly from the year
before, charges are up significantly from a decade
earlier (see chart). The EEOC has not given a reason
for the long-term increase. However, many HR
professionals and employment law attorneys attribute
it to the aging population and an expanded
disability definition that took effect in January
Under federal law, disability discrimination can
An employer, or other entity covered by the law,
treats an employee or applicant unfavorably because
he or she has a disability.
An individual is treated less favorably because he
or she has a history of a disability, such as cancer
that's in remission.
A person is perceived to have a physical or
mental impairment that's not minor and transitory
(lasting or expected to last six months or less) —
even if he or she doesn't have such an impairment.
An individual is treated unfavorably based on his or
her relationship with a disabled person. An example
would be an employee who's discriminated against
because a child or spouse has a disability.
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
requires covered employers to provide reasonable
accommodations to employees and applicants with
disabilities, unless doing so would cause
significant difficulty or expense.
Here are three recent examples of disability
discrimination cases. In these situations, according
to the EEOC, the agency filed suit in U.S. District
Courts after attempting to reach pre-litigation
settlements through its conciliation process.
Unlawful Medical Inquiries. A
concrete product and services company will pay
$15,000 and provide substantial injunctive relief to
settle a disability discrimination lawsuit, the EEOC
announced on June 24.
The case began when an employee missed a day of work
and was asked to fill out a company health
information form to verify that his absence was for
medical reasons. If the form wasn't fully filled
out, absences weren't excused. The EEOC alleged the
company subjected employees to unlawful medical
inquiries and adverse employment actions including
coercion, intimidation, threats and retaliation for
refusing to comply.
"Requiring employees to reveal the specific nature
of their medical illness in order to deem the use of
sick leave an excused absence is an unlawful
disability-related inquiry under the ADA not
justified by business necessity," said Regional
Attorney Debra Lawrence of the EEOC Philadelphia
"Employees should not have to worry that their
private and potentially harmful information will be
used against them later to unfairly exclude them
from jobs they could otherwise perform," she added.
2. Employee with Cancer Fired. A
bearings manufacturer will pay $50,000 and provide
significant relief to settle a disability
discrimination lawsuit, the EEOC announced on June
According to the lawsuit, an employee at the company
operated a motorized scooter to move products and
materials to and from an assembly line. The
company's medical staff imposed restrictions on the
employee because she was treated for cancer. The
EEOC alleged that the employee's own doctor cleared
her to work without any restrictions, but the
company didn't consider outside medical opinions and
3. Employee Fired Due to Perceived Disability. The
EEOC filed a lawsuit on June 22 against a human
plasma collection company. The suit alleges the
company violated federal law by discriminating
against an employee believed to have tested positive
for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
According to the EEOC suit, the company placed the
employee on a deferred donor list after an initial
screening for a plasma donation showed a viral
marker for HIV. The employee was immediately
discharged after his supervisor learned about the
result. Subsequent tests showed the employee was
negative for HIV.
The agency's lawsuit seeks monetary relief for the
employee in the form of back pay and compensatory
and punitive damages, as well as a permanent
injunction against further discrimination on the
basis of disability.
The EEOC also alleged the company failed to maintain
employee medical records separate from personnel
"Discharging someone simply because the employer
perceives a disability is a violation of the ADA,"
said Katharine W. Kores, district director of the
EEOC Memphis District Office.
When an employee discloses that he or she has a
disability and requests a reasonable accommodation,
an employer should engage in an interactive process
to determine how to provide one.
Train all managers, including those who are hiring
decision-makers, how to recruit, hire and promote
employees with ADA compliance in mind. For more
information about adhering to the law, consult with
your HR professional and employment attorney or
click here to
read "A Primer for Small Business" from the EEOC
For additional information on how we can help,
Robert Puerto, CPA,
at 516-248-7361, or
click here to email Robert.
In a brief consultation he can assess your situation
and offer guidance for your specific circumstances.