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Press Release 01-06-2023

Hiland Dairy to Pay $140,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit

Oklahoma Dairy Plant Refused to Hire Applicant Due to Vision Impairment, Federal Agency Charged

ST. LOUIS – Hiland Dairy Foods, a Springfield, Missouri-based producer and distributor of dairy products, will pay $140,000 to resolve a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

According to the suit, Hiland refused to hire a man to work at its Norman, Oklahoma, dairy plant because of his vision impairment. Hiland initially offered the applicant a dairy plant worker position knowing he had a disability, but then withdrew the offer after a standard pre-employment medical exam. The doctor responsible for the exam claimed the man was a “safety concern” because he was “legally blind”, even though the doctor never personally met or examined the man and based his opinion solely on a simple vision test. Neither Hiland nor the doctor considered whether any assistive devices or other reasonable accommodations could have mitigated the potential safety concerns.   

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits dis­crimination due to disability. The EEOC filed its lawsuit (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Hiland Dairy Foods Company, LLC, Civil Action No. 5:21-cv-00483) in May 2021 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The five-year consent decree requires Hiland Dairy to pay $140,000 in monetary damages to the applicant and to adopt policies, enact procedures, and provide employee training to ensure future compliance with the ADA. The decree also requires Hiland Dairy to notify employees of their right to reasonable accommodation under the ADA and periodically report to the EEOC.

“The ADA requires employers to evaluate workers with disabilities based on their actual ability to perform a job, with or without reasonable accommodation, and not on irrational fears or stereotypes,” said Andrea G. Baran, the EEOC’s regional attorney in St. Louis. “Labels like ‘legally blind’ are irrelevant to an individual’s ability to work.”

 “Individuals with vision impairments successfully perform a wide variety of jobs throughout our economy every day,” said David Davis, acting director of the EEOC’s St. Louis District office.  “Employers cannot neglect their obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to those workers based on unsubstantiated ‘safety concerns’.”

The EEOC’s St. Louis District Office is responsible for receiving and investigating charges of employment discrimination and conducting agency litigation in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and a portion of southern Illinois, with area offices in Kansas City, Kansas, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

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