HVAC Company Fired Employee Because of Heart Condition and Refused to Rehire Him After He Filed a Discrimination Charge, Federal Agency Said
BALTIMORE - A leading provider of mechanical heating, ventilation and air conditioning services in the Mid-Atlantic area violated federal law when it fired a sheet metal mechanic because of his disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today. Further, the company later unlawfully refused to rehire him because of his disability and in retaliation for filing a charge of discrimination, the agency said.
Jose Arteaga Rivas worked for six years as a sheet metal mechanic with Fidelity Engineering Corporation at its facility in Sparks, Md., when he developed endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart. Arteaga had valve replacement surgery in September 2010 and was medically released to return to work in January 2011. Despite his record of good job performance, the company refused to allow him to return to work because of his disability, the EEOC said. Instead, the employer fired Arteaga on Feb. 4, 2011, stating in the termination letter, "[g]iven the nature of [his] job as a Sheet Metal Mechanic, it is too risky to allow [him] to return to [his] previous line of work."
The EEOC charged that even though Arteaga's doctor had released him to return to work with no restrictions, Fidelity claimed in its notice of discharge that Arteaga was "unable to return to job as a Sheet Metal Mechanic due to ongoing medical condition." Fidelity Engineering also violated federal law when it failed to transfer Arteaga to a vacant position as a reasonable accommodation for his disability and instead terminated him, the EEOC said in its lawsuit.
The EEOC further alleged that in May 2012, Fidelity Engineering refused to rehire Arteaga for a vacant sheet metal position for which he was qualified at its Beltsville, Md., location because of his disability and in retaliation for his filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC. The EEOC further claims that the company violated federal law by failing to keep personnel and medical records separate.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The ADA also requires employers to undertake a rigorous assessment of whether a disabled employee poses a safety threat in the workplace. The EEOC's regulations state that an employer's direct-threat assessment must be "based on a reasonable medical judgment that relies on the most current medical knowledge and/or on the best available objective evidence."
The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division, Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-00098-RDB, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. In its lawsuit, the EEOC seeks injunctive relief prohibiting Fidelity Engineering from engaging in any further employment practice that discriminates on the basis of disability or retaliation; equitable relief that provides equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities; and lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages and other affirmative relief for Arteaga.
"The ADA was enacted to stop employers from refusing to hire or firing qualified employees based on fears, myths or stereotypes about their disabilities," said Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., district director of the EEOC's Philadelphia District Office.
EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "The EEOC will take robust action to protect workers who have been wrongfully denied employment because of a disability."
The Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov