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Press Release 10-09-2018

EEOC Sues Appalachian Wood Products, Inc. For Disability Discrimination

Employer Made Unlawful Medical Inquiries and Refused to Hire Applicants Based on Disability, Federal Agency Charges

JOHNSTOWN, Pa.  - Appalachian Wood Products, Inc., a Clearfield, Pa.-based major supplier of cabinet components to the kitchen and bath industry, violated federal law when it subjected applicants to unlawful medical inquiries and refused to hire qualified applicants based on their disability or medical treatment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit announced today.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, in June 2017, the company refused to hire an applicant for a factory position because he was taking medically prescribed suboxone without considering whether it affected his ability to do the job safely. The EEOC said that since at least October 2016, Appalachian Wood Products has unlawfully barred job applicants from certain positions if they were taking prescribed medications for drug addiction treatment, such as suboxone or methadone, without evaluating whether such medications affect their ability to perform the job safely. The lawsuit also charges that Appalachian Wood Products has unlawfully required applicants to disclose their use of medications prior to making conditional job offers and then refused to hire them into certain jobs or assigned them to less desirable positions based on their answers to these illegal medical inquiries.

Refusing to hire a qualified individual because of his disability, record of disability or because the employer perceives a person as being disabled violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA also places strict limits on employers when it comes to asking job applicants to answer medical questions, take a medical exam, or identify a disability. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Appalachian Wood Products, Civil Action No. 3:18-cv-00198) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

"Federal law prohibits employers from subjecting applicants to pre-job offer medical exams or inquiries, and strictly regulates post-offer medical examinations, so that applicants can be fairly evaluated on their actual qualifications," said EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence. "Employers risk violating the law if they make employment decisions based on unfounded fears or generalized assump­tions about an applicant or employee's disability or the possible effects of their medical treatment."

EEOC Philadelphia District Director Jamie R. Williamson added, "As the country grapples with an opioid addiction crisis, unfortunately there are many myths and biases about people recovering from drug addiction and the treatments for it. Under the ADA, employers may test for illegal drug use, but medically prescribed suboxone or methadone are not illegal drugs. Rather, they are common and effective treatments for individuals recovering from drug addiction, and any possible side effects of those treatments must be assessed on an individualized basis."

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 Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.