Mine Refused to Hire Laborer With Hearing Impairment, Federal Agency Charges
MINNEAPOLIS – A Hibbing, Minn., taconite mining company violated federal law by denying an applicant a reasonable accommodation for his hearing impairment and then rejecting him from employment because of his disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, Hibbing Taconite Company initially refused to interview James Edstrom for a position when it learned that he was hearing-impaired and required an interpreter. After Edstrom filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC, Hibbing Taconite Company interviewed him, but refused to provide him with the reasonable accommodations that he needed to take pre-employment tests and rejected his application based upon his hearing impairment and verbal limitations.
The EEOC filed the litigation under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota after first trying to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. The case is captioned EEOC v. Hibbing Taconite Company, Civ. No. 09-00729 RHK/RLE.
As part of the suit, the EEOC is seeking back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief prohibiting the company from engaging in any employment practices that discriminate on the basis of disability.
“Mr. Edstrom had been doing the same work for another mining company that he sought to do at Hibbing Taconite,” said John P. Rowe, district director of the EEOC’s Chicago District, which includes Minnesota as well as Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. “There is no reason to think that he would be any less successful at Hibbing Taconite in those positions than he was in his former jobs, where his performance was praised and commended.”
John Hendrickson, regional attorney of the Chicago District, said, “Employers simply can’t assume that someone is unable to do the job because he or she doesn’t hear or speak in the same way as does the average person in the general population. Mr. Edstrom could do the job. It was discriminatory to deny him the position because of his disability.”
In Fiscal Year 2008, the EEOC received 17,734 disability discrimination charge filings under the ADA, a 10% increase from the prior year.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.