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PRESS RELEASE
8-6-19

Appalachian Wood Products Will Pay $42,500 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

Employer Subjected Applicants to Discrimination Based on Prescribed Opioid Addiction Medications, Federal Agency Charged

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. - Appalachian Wood Products, Inc., a Clearfield, Pa.-based major supplier of cabinet components to the kitchen and bath industry, will pay $42,500 and furnish other relief to settle a federal disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commis­sion (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

According to the lawsuit, Appalachian Wood Products refused to hire an applicant for a factory position because he was taking suboxone, a medically prescribed treatment for opioid addiction, without considering whether it affected his ability to do the job safely. The company also unlawfully required applicants to disclose their use of medications prior to making conditional job offers. Further, the com­pany refused to hire individuals into certain jobs or assigned them to less desirable positions based on their answers to these illegal medical inquiries, the EEOC charged.

Refusing to hire a qualified individual because of use of prescribed medications for treatment of a disability or to prevent recurrence of a disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA also prohibits employers from making medical inquiries of job applicants or requiring them to submit to medical exams prior to a bona fide conditional job offer, including prohibiting any inquiries about prescribed medication use before making a job offer. The EEOC filed suit (U.S. EEOC v. Appa­lachian Wood Products, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:18-cv-00198) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Johnstown) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

In addition to the $42,500 in monetary relief to two workers, the three-year consent decree resolving the suit enjoins Appalachian Wood Products from making medical inquiries or examinations before making a conditional job offer in the future. The company will also refrain from using the results of allowed post-offer medical exams in any manner that violates the ADA. Further the company is also prohibited in the future from engaging in any employment practice that unlawfully discriminates against any person in hiring or job assignments because he or she is receiving medical treatment for drug addic­tion. The company also agreed to refrain from engaging in retaliation.  

Appalachian Wood Products will also:

  • create and implement employment policies that prohibit discrimination and retaliation;
  • provide training on the ADA and the employer's legal obligations to provide a reasonable accommodation;
  • report to the EEOC on how it handles any complaints of disability discrimination; and
  • post a notice regarding the settlement.

"Our nation as a whole, and Western Pennsylvania in particular, has suffered greatly as a result of the opioid addiction epidemic," said EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence. "As a community we should all support workers recovering from opioid addiction, and, in that regard, employers have a legal duty to allow those workers to earn a living free from any unlawful discrimination against them because of their medical treatment. The EEOC will continue to support workers recovering from addiction by ensuring that employers respect those workers' ADA rights."

EEOC Philadelphia District Director Jamie R. Williamson added, "The ADA guards against improper pre-offer medical examinations and inquiries. The law also ensures that hiring decisions should be made based on the applicant's ability to do the job safely--not on his or her disabilities or medical treatments. We commend Appalachian Wood Products for revising its procedures to provide equal employment opportunities for all applicants."

The lawsuit was commenced by the EEOC's Pittsburgh Area Office, one of four component offices of the agency's Philadelphia District Office. The Philadelphia District Office has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. Attorneys in the Philadelphia District Office also prosecute discrimination cases in Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.

The EEOC advances equal 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.