Press Release 07-28-2020

Norfolk Southern to Pay $2.5 Million to Settle EEOC Systemic Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

Railroad Medical Department Unlawfully Disqualified Workers Because Of Disabilities, Federal Agency Charged

PITTSBURGH, P.a. – Norfolk Southern Corporation and Norfolk Southern Railway Company (Norfolk Southern) will pay $2.5 million dollars to 37 workers and furnish significant non-monetary relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Norfolk Southern’s medical department medically disqualified workers from employment based on a range of actual or perceived disabilities, or a history of such disabilities, disclosed during pre-employment or return-to-work medical evaluations.  EEOC alleged that Norfolk Southern engaged in a practice of medically disqualifying workers without proper consideration of whether, or to what extent, their conditions might affect their ability to perform the jobs safely.  

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrim­ination in employment based on disability, an employer’s accurate or mistaken perception that a worker has a disability, or a history of disability. An employer who claims safety concerns justify its exclusion of a worker with a disability must demonstrate the worker’s disability poses a significant risk of substantial harm and that such risk cannot be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level through reasonable accommodation.

The EEOC filed suit (U.S. EEOC v. Norfolk Southern Corp. and Norfolk Southern Railway Co., Case No. 2:17-CV-01251) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process.  The parties agreed to settle the lawsuit prior to any federal court adjudication of liability issues.

In addition to paying a total of $2.5 million to 37 workers, the two and a half-year consent decree prohibits future violations of the ADA and requires Norfolk Southern implement measures to prevent workplace disability discrimination related to medical evaluations, such as policies and procedures, training, appointment of a company decree compliance monitor, and reporting to the EEOC.

EEOC Philadelphia Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said, “We are very pleased Norfolk Southern worked with the EEOC to craft a comprehensive settlement that will benefit employees and applicants. In addition to the monetary compensation for the EEOC’s claimants, the extensive programmatic measures are designed to promote equal opportunity for Norfolk Southern’s employees and workers seeking employment at the company.”

EEOC Philadelphia District Director Jamie R. Williamson said, “This month marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and cases such as this serve as a reminder of not only how far we’ve come as a nation in the vindication of disability rights, but that there is much work left to be done.  The EEOC remains committed to that important national goal.”

EEOC Pittsburgh Area Office Director Deborah A. Kane, who previously served as lead counsel in the litigation said, “Skilled workers with disabilities like EEOC’s claimants in this case, several of whom are U.S. military veterans, should have every opportunity to earn a living, contribute to the national economy, and benefit their employers and co-workers. Employers should carefully evaluate such workers, using the best available medical and objective evidence and a correct understanding of ADA requirements, to ensure workers are not denied opportunities based on inaccurate conclusions about their ability to safely perform particular jobs.”

Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

The Philadelphia District Office has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.