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Press Release 08-16-2011

EEOC Sues United Insurance Company of America For Disability Discrimination 

Nationwide Insurance Company Rescinded Job Offer to Recovering Drug Addict Because of His Disability, Federal Agency Charges

RALEIGH, N.C. – A Chicago-based insurance company violated federal disability discrimination law when it refused to hire an applicant at its in Raleigh, N.C., office because of his disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

According to the EEOC's complaint, Craig Burns is a recovering drug addict who has been enrolled in a methadone treatment program since 2004. In January 2010, United Insurance offered Burns a position as an insurance agent in its Raleigh office, conditioned upon Burns' passing a drug test. After Burns' drug test showed the presence of methadone in his system, Burns submitted a letter to United Insurance from his treatment provider explaining that he was participating in supervised methadone treatment program and taking legally prescribed medication as part of the treatment. Upon receiving this information, United Insurance notified Burns that he was not eligible for hire and withdrew its offer of employment.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees and applicants from discrimination based on their disabilities. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. United Insurance Company of America, Civil Action No. 5:11-cv-430) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief.

"It is unfortunate that many employers still deny the opportunity for work to people who are ready and able simply because of inaccurate perceptions of disabilities," said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte District, which includes the EEOC's Raleigh Area Office, where the charge was filed. "Employers' decisions are often based on irrational fears or stereotypes about individuals with a record of past substance abuse. The EEOC will continue to fight for the rights of people victimized by such prejudices."

United Insurance Company of America is a national insurance company that sells life, accident and health insurance policies and employs over 2,600 employees nationwide.

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