The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



Lumberton Garage Fired Employee Because It Perceived Him as Being Disabled, Agency Charges

WILMINGTON, N.C. – Smith International Truck Center, a North Carolina trucking garage, unlawfully fired an employee because it perceived him as being disabled, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a disability discrimination lawsuit it filed today.

According to the EEOC’s suit (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Smith Bros. Truck Garage, Inc. d/b/a Smith International Truck Center, Civil Action No. 7:09cv00150 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Southern Division) Smith Bros. Truck Garage, Inc., doing business as Smith International Truck Center, fired Stephen Kerns because it perceived him as being disabled. The EEOC’s complaint said that Kerns was absent from work for one week to obtain medical treatment and to get the dosage adjusted for medication he took for a mental impairment. Kerns was released to return to work with no restrictions.

The EEOC asserted that despite the fact that Kerns had previously informed Smith International of his need to be absent and presented medical excuses for his absence when he returned to work, Smith International fired him because of his perceived disability. Smith International operates facilities in Fayetteville and Lumberton, N.C. Kerns worked at the Lumberton facility.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees and applicants from discrimination based on actual and perceived disabilities, as well as those who have a record of a disability. The EEOC seeks back pay, reinstatement, compensatory damages and punitive damages for Kerns as well as injunctive relief. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement.

“The EEOC is committed to enforcing all aspects of the ADA,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney of the EEOC's Charlotte District Office. “An employer cannot take action against an employee based on fears or stereotypes about a particular impairment, which unfortunately is often the case with employees with mental conditions. The EEOC will seek to remedy discrimination predicated on myths, fears and stereotypes that are associated with disabilities.”

Tina Burnside, supervisory trial attorney in the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office, added, “The ADA requires employers to perform an individualized assessment of an employee’s medical condition, and take into account medical documentation from an employee’s doctor regarding the mental impairment and ability to work. Based on the facts of this case, it does not appear that Smith International performed such an inquiry, but instead relied upon myths, fears and stereotypes about mental impairments and unlawfully terminated Mr. Kerns.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at

This page was last modified on September 21, 2009.

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