Company Fired Certified Rigger Due to Epilepsy, Federal Agency Charges
SEATTLE - A Washington-based company doing business as Diamond B Constructors, Inc. violated federal law by terminating a tradeswoman because of her disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC's suit, Angela Watson was dispatched by the local union to work on a reconstruction project for Diamond B at Tesoro Oil Refinery in Anacortes, Wash. Watson is a pipefitter by trade and holds an additional certification as a rigger. When she disclosed that she has epilepsy to her direct supervisor, he and other Diamond B supervisors unilaterally concluded without further inquiry that she could not safely work at heights - even though Watson's epilepsy was well controlled on medication, she had not requested any accommodation, and was able to work without restriction.
Terminating an employee based on disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington [Case No. 2:18-cv-00926] after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The lawsuit names Diamond B, its successor Harris Companies, and BLI Northwest, the separate legal entity remaining after Harris acquired Diamond B's name and operations. The EEOC seeks monetary damages on behalf of Watson, and injunctive relief, which typically includes training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the worksite, and compliance reporting.
"Riggers are pipefitters who are trained to calculate loads and safely attach large components to cranes for lifting, and Angela got a specialized dispatch for this assignment because she's certified to do that," said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney May Che. "When Diamond B falsely presumed that Angela was incapable of practicing her trade and fired her, it violated her rights under the ADA, and the EEOC is here to stand up for those rights."
EEOC Seattle Field Director Nancy Sienko said, "Epilepsy reportedly affects 2.2 million Americans. About one out of every 26 people will develop epilepsy at some point in their lives, and it affects each person differently. It is critical that employers do not base job decisions on stereotypes, but instead carefully consider each individual's abilities."
According to www.dbnw.com, Bellingham, Wash.-based Diamond B Constructors provided commercial and industrial construction services in Washington, Oregon, Montana and California, and employed about 250 people year-round. The company was acquired in January 2018 by the St. Paul, Minn., corporation Harris Companies, one of the largest mechanical contractors in the U.S., with over 1,000 employees in nine locations throughout the country, according to www.hmcc.com.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.