Ruling Clears Way for Trial in Federal Agency’s Suit Contending That Deaf Applicant Was Denied Employment in Violation of ADA
MINNEAPOLIS – Judge Richard Kyle of U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota issued an order on June 2 denying in part the motion of Hibbing Taconite Company for summary judgment in a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
In its lawsuit, EEOC v. Hibbing Taconite Company, Civ. No. 09-729 (RHK/RLE), originally filed March 31, 2009, the EEOC charged that Hibbing Taconite Company discriminated against James Edstrom, who is deaf, when it denied him employment at its mine. The EEOC contends that Hibbing Taconite rejected Edstrom, who formerly worked for LTV Mining, because of his hearing impairment, in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
On March 5, Hibbing Taconite filed a motion for summary judgment alleging that it was entitled to an immediate judgment in its favor and without trial because, it contended, there were no disputed issues of fact, and that Edstrom was not qualified for the positions for which he applied, which included three in the plant and two in the open pit mine, because of his deafness.
Although the court granted summary judgment as to the jobs in the plant, it found that there was ample evidence on which a jury could find that Edstrom could have performed the jobs in the open pit mine with a reasonable accommodation: “The very fact that (Edstrom) successfully worked at the LTV mine pit is strong evidence that a reasonable accommodation could have been possible,” the judge said.
The court also concluded that a jury could find that Hibbing Taconite had acted in bad faith when it initially reversed its decision to interview Edstrom after it learned that he was deaf: “Hibbing demonstrated bad faith when it rescinded its interview offer immediately upon learning of Edstrom’s disability,” the judge wrote.
The case has been set for trial in Duluth, Minn., on July 26, 2010.
“Employment discrimination cases are often fact-intensive and, like this one, cannot be resolved without trial,” said the EEOC’s regional attorney in Chicago, John Hendrickson. “After all, resolving issues of fact is what juries do. But Hibbing Taconite proposed, wrongly, that everything in this case so favored the company that there was no reason to have a jury decide anything. That proposition could not be sustained, and the court rejected it, clearing the way for a jury trial. So, now we move to that stage, and we are, of course, pleased that Mr. Edstrom will have his chance to tell a jury exactly what happened to him.”
The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.