Telecom Giant Removed Visually Impaired Technician From His Job, Ignoring His Accommodation Request, Federal Agency Charged
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - AT&T, a multi-national telecommunications company, will pay $250,000, reinstate an employee, and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. EEOC had charged the company with failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to a visually impaired employee who had worked for the company since 2001.
According to EEOC's lawsuit, Miguel Meléndez began working as a switch technician in 2001 for a predecessor company, Centennial. In 2008, Meléndez became visually impaired due to diabetes. In 2009, Meléndez's doctor cleared him to return to work, at which time Meléndez requested a reasonable accommodation for his visual impairment. Specifically, he requested the use of adaptive technology software, which would allow him to use computers and programs to perform the essential functions of his job as switch technician.
Neither AT&T's predecessor, Centennial, nor AT&T ever provided a response to Meléndez's request for reasonable accommodation. In the meantime, he was removed from his position and not permitted to return to work, while the company continued to ignore his accommodation request. After waiting over a year and a half for a response to his request, Meléndez was removed from his position, EEOC said. Meléndez filed a discrimination charge with EEOC in October 2010.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). EEOC filed this suit (EEOC v. AT&T, Case 3:11-cv-01964-CCC) in U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico after first investigating and attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Meléndez intervened in EEOC's lawsuit and raised additional discrimination claims under federal and local law. The plaintiff-intervenor is represented by private attorneys Loira M. Acosta-Baez, Esq., and Ivan E. Aponte-Gonzalez, Esq., of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Under the consent decree resolving EEOC's claims, aside from significant monetary relief, AT&T has agreed to reinstate Meléndez into a new position in its San Juan location and to offer him reasonable accommodations in compliance with the ADA. AT&T will also conduct annual training for its managers in Puerto Rico, post a notice about the lawsuit in its Puerto Rico locations where customer service representatives and its Network Field Operations employees are located, and report ADA complaints from Puerto Rico to EEOC. AT&T has also agreed to engage in affirmative recruiting of visually impaired individuals by cooperating with local organizations that serve that workforce.
"It is important for employers to take accommodation requests from qualified employees with disabilities seriously and to respond to them in a timely manner," said EEOC San Juan Director William Sanchez. "The requirement by federal law to engage in the interactive process with an employee cannot be ignored."
EEOC Miami Regional Attorney Robert Weisberg added, "Under the terms of this consent decree, Meléndez may return to work at AT&T with a reasonable accommodation. This result fulfills the objectives of the ADA, one of which is to ensure workers like Meléndez continue to participate in the workforce. We hope employers take note of this case as an example of how all workers may participate productively in the workforce, and how stereotypes about an employee's disability cannot and should not determine an employee's fate in any company."
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.