Company Refused to Consider Accommodations for Technician Gone Blind From Diabetes, Federal Agency Charged
MIAMI – A company in Puerto Rico now owned by telecommunications giant AT&T violated federal law when it refused to reasonably accommodate a longtime employee after he went blind from a disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed last week.
According to the EEOC’s suit, Miguel Melendez started working for Centennial in November 2001, when he was 20 years old. As a switch technician, he monitored and maintained data, telephone and cellular servers for the wireless provider. Melendez suffers from diabetic retinopathy, which caused him to lose vision in both eyes in November 2008. The accommodation he requested would have permitted him to continue working as a switch technician by utilizing computer software that allows blind persons to use computer programs and applications. The company knew that such software existed, the EEOC said. AT&T acquired Centennial de Puerto Rico in January 2010 and continued Centennial’s business operations.
The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. AT&T, Case No. 3:11-cv-019-CCC) against AT&T in U.S. District Court for Puerto Rico, alleging in its complaint that AT&T’s failure to accommodate Melendez violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), as amended by the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for Melendez. The suit also seeks injunctive relief to prevent and correct disability discrimination, and training of AT&T’s managers and employees about equal employment opportunity laws.
“Workplace flexibility and making reasonable workplace modifications, such as the use of computer software, to keep qualified employees working, not only makes good business sense in the 21st century, it is required by federal law,” said Malcolm Medley, director of the EEOC’s Miami District Office. “The EEOC will continue to protect employees against such unlawful discrimination.”
Robert Weisberg, the EEOC’s Miami regional attorney, added, “Employers have the obligation under the ADA to reasonably accommodate disabled individuals. We will vigorously prosecute cases where it appears that employment decisions are based on myths, fears or stereotypes about a person’s ability because of his disability.”
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. The Miami District Office’s jurisdiction includes Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.