Federal Agency Says Belvidere Firm Harassed and Fired Mentally Retarded Worker
CHICAGO - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced this morning that it has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Rockford, Illinois, charging Renaissance Roofing, Inc. with discriminating against an employee with mild mental retardation by subjecting him to harassment and discharging and failing to recall him because of his disability. The EEOC says that the Belvidere company's treatment of the employee violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
The EEOC alleges that Renaissance, which specializes in the installation of clay tile roofing, knew that the employee had mild mental retardation when it hired him but continuously discriminated against him during his time with the company. According to the EEOC, Renaissance transferred the employee from a job as a roofer, which he was satisfactorily performing, to a warehouse position and terminated him. The employee was repeatedly harassed and humiliated by being called "stupid" and being made the butt of on-the-job teasing and other mistreatment; finally, he was told he was fired because he could not read.
Noting that ADA charge filings comprise 20% of the EEOC's caseload, Commission Chair Cari M. Dominguez said: "Persons with mental disabilities are just as protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act as those with physical disabilities. This case reflects the EEOC's determination to make that protection a reality."
The EEOC's lawsuit seeks monetary relief in the form of compensatory and punitive damages, an order requiring the company to implement non-discriminatory policies, and a permanent injunction against future discrimination.
John Hendrickson, Regional Attorney in the EEOC's Chicago District Office, said: "Congress passed the ADA to ensure that individuals with disabilities receive the same respect that all employees deserve. Renaissance failed to treat this employee with dignity and respect. This lawsuit should signal employers that federal law does not permit anyone to take a free shot at mentally disabled workers on the job and that the EEOC will not let such conduct go unchallenged."
The EEOC Chicago District Office has jurisdiction over almost all of the State of Illinois. Chicago District Director John Rowe said, "Employers outside of Chicago should never assume that their employees do not have access to the EEOC or that we will not actively move to correct violations in any area of the state, as we are doing here. Those employees do have access to us and we will take vigorous action in appropriate cases such as this one against Renaissance Roofing."
Renaissance Roofing is located in Belvidere, Illinois, and the EEOC case was filed Friday, September 27 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division, in Rockford, where it is captioned EEOC v. Renaissance Roofing and designated case No.02 C 50370. The case has been assigned to District Judge Philip G. Reinhard and Magistrate-Judge P. Michael Mahoney, and is the first ADA case brought by the EEOC Chicago District Office with respect to discrimination against an employee with mental retardation.
EEOC Trial Attorney Lauren Dreilinger will be directly responsible for the litigation of the case. She said, "This case involves the sort of cruel stereotyping in the workplace that the ADA was enacted to combat. The employee demonstrated that he was capable of performing his jobs, however, the employer failed to get beyond the prejudices of its management and staff and ended up violating federal law."
EEOC is the federal agency responsible for the administration, interpretation and enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects workers 40 and older from discrimination based on age; the Equal Pay Act; Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments; prohibitions against discrimination affecting individuals with disabilities in the federal government; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Further information about the Commission is available on the agency's Web site at www.eeoc.gov.