Vessel Company Discharged Deckhand With 'Situational Depression' Because It Perceived Him to be Disabled, Federal Agency Charged
NEW ORLEANS -- An oil and gas vessel company doing business in the Larose, La., area violated federal law by firing an employee because it perceived him to be disabled, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit filed yesterday.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Gulf Logistics discharged deckhand Jason Gunderson after seeking assistance from the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) because the company perceived him to be disabled due to his "situational depression" even though he was able to perform the essential functions of his job without any restrictions. The suit further alleged the company did not conduct any intensive individualized assessment of Gunderson's mental impairment, as the law requires, to determine if it affected his ability to perform the essential functions of the position as mandated by the law before discharging him.
Additionally, the EEOC asserts that forcing Gunderson to seek a medical release to return to work because he asked for a referral to the company's EAP constituted an illegal medical inquiry or exam under the law.
Disability discrimination violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 2:17-cv-09362) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the company from engaging in employment discrimination and retaliation, as well as back pay, compensatory damages, pecuniary losses and punitive damages for Gunderson.
"It is clearly and plainly unlawful to discharge an employee due to biases about that employee's ability to perform his or her job because of a medical condition," said Keith Hill, field director for the New Orleans office.
Rudy Sustaita, regional attorney for EEOC's New Orleans and Houston offices, said, "No employee should be subjected to unlawful stereotyped decisions based on his or her medical health and attempts to seek assistance to cope with difficulties in their lives."
Michelle Butler, senior trial attorney for the New Orleans Field Office, added, "Mr. Gunderson was performing his duties without any restrictions. Gulf Logistics fired him based on an unsubstantiated determination that he was not able to perform his duties. When this happens, the EEOC will step in to defend such people's rights."
According to company information, Gulf Logistics operates a fleet of offshore workboats for the Gulf of Mexico oil and gas industry. Its vessels support a multitude of projects for companies engaging in oil and gas exploration and production. Its corporate office is in Larose, La.
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.