Company Made Illegal Medical Inquiries and Violated Confidentiality Requirements, Federal Agency Charged
TULSA, Okla. - Helmerich & Payne, Inc. (H&P), a Tulsa-based drilling contractor, will pay a former employee $59,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, the oil contractor forced a derrick hand at H&P's Alice, Texas location off the job because he was taking prescribed medications to treat chronic pain associated with a degenerative disk condition. The company ultimately fired the derrick hand, even though he had been deemed fit to return to work by his doctor.
The EEOC's lawsuit also charged that H&P had engaged in unlawful disability-related inquiries and medical exams of employees and had required all employees to disclose prescribed medications and over-the-counter drugs to management. The EEOC also challenged practices that essentially barred from employment workers who took prescribed medications that H&P deemed capable of impairing job performance, regardless of whether the employee was actually affected by the medication, and even when the employee was cleared to work on the medication by his or her doctor.
Such conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit, Civil Action No. 4:14-cv-00573-TCK-FHM, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, Tulsa Division, after the EEOC's San Antonio Field Office attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the agency's conciliation process.
As part of the two-year consent decree resolving the suit, H&P will pay $59,000 to its former employee. H&P also agreed to modify its written policies to achieve compliance with the ADA; provide training regarding the ADA; and post a notice referencing the consent decree.
"The EEOC expects this settlement will encourage employers to review their policies to ensure that they do not violate the ADA's restrictions concerning post-offer medical inquiries and examinations," said David Rivela, senior trial attorney at the EEOC's San Antonio Field Office. "The ADA restricts covered employers from requiring medical examinations or conducting disability-related inquiries of employees -- unless such examinations or inquiries are shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity."
Toby W. Costas, acting regional attorney of the EEOC's Dallas District Office, stressed that this case highlights the importance of employers not assuming that employees with disabilities who take medications are unable to safely perform their jobs.
Costas said, "The EEOC will vigorously challenge practices that prevent qualified employees from performing their jobs based on unfounded fears and stereotypes - and will enforce federal disability law."
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.