Former Administrative Assistant Fired After Experiencing Stroke-Like Symptoms, Federal Agency Said
SAN ANTONIO - San Antonio-based Dependable Health Services, Inc. (DHS), which provides contract workers to U.S. military facilities, has agreed to pay $40,000 as part of a settlement of a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC's suit charged that DHS fired an employee assigned to its corporate office after she returned to work after being hospitalized for stroke-like symptoms, because management officials believed she had suffered a stroke. According to the EEOC, the employee had been cleared to return to work by her doctor with a temporary two-week restriction on work hours, but was still experiencing temporary facial paralysis likely caused by Bell's palsy when she was terminated by DHS.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from terminating or otherwise taking adverse employment action against a qualified individual because of her disability, record of disability, or because the employer perceives a person as being disabled. The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 5:12-cv-00846-XR) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The two-year consent decree settling the suit, signed by U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez, provides for two hours of training to all managers and supervisors in DHS's corporate office on the requirements of the ADA, as amended; distribution of a notice reiterating DHS's commitment to comply with the ADA; reaffirmation of DHS's policy not to discriminate in violation of the ADA; and payment of $40,000.
"In this case an employee suffered financially because an employer misjudged her condition and her ability to work," said EEOC Trial Attorney David Rivela of the agency's San Antonio Field Office. "The ADA requires that all employees be given equal opportunity to do their jobs regardless of an actual or perceived disability, and employers should not make decisions based on perceptions about someone's supposed impairment. This case should remind all employers that the ADA requires employers to make an individualized assessment about an applicant or employee's ability to do the job instead of acting out of speculative fears or biases."
EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Judith G. Taylor added, "We are pleased that DHS and the EEOC were able resolve this case by entering into this consent decree -- providing monetary relief to the claimant, agreeing to ADA training and other measures that will help protect employees from discrimination. The EEOC is committed to protecting all people with or without disabilities who are discriminated against in their places of employment."
One of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the agency to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA, among other possible issues.
Dallas District Director Janet Elizondo added, "Employers have to be very careful about jumping to conclusions about an employee's health. Whether or not particular conditions are visible or temporary, as in this case, assumptions about a person's prospective inability will often run afoul of the ADA."
In fiscal year 2012, private-sector workplace discrimination charge filings with the EEOC hit a level of 99,412, which included 26,379 disability charges.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.