Press Release 02-28-2020

Steel Painters Settles EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit

 Industrial Painting Company Unlawfully Fired Worker Because of His Medically Prescribed Methadone, Federal Agency Charged

HOUSTON - Steel Painters, LLC, an industrial sandblasting and painting services company based in Beaumont, Texas, has agreed to pay monetary damages and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today. 

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Steel Painters violated federal law when it fired an employee based on his record of disability - past opioid drug addiction - and the perception that he continued to have such a disability due to his use of medically prescribed methadone. The employee disclosed his methadone prescription to the facility that conducted his pre-employment drug test and to Steel Painters at hire. The testing facility verified the methadone use was legally prescribed by a medically supervised drug rehabilitation clinic. However, when Steel Painters learned the employee tested positive for meth­adone on his drug screen, it instructed the employee to have his prescribing physician complete a com­pany-issued verification form.

The EEOC said that when the employee informed Steel Painters' administrative manager that he was unable to comply because of the clinic's patient confidentiality rules, she unlawfully fired him. The employee requested that the manager allow him to confirm the safety of his methadone use by calling his rehabilitation clinic directly or by having a company doctor evaluate him. The EEOC charged that Steel Painters' insistence that the medication's safety could only be verified by the prescribing physician filling out the company form was a pretext to hide the company's discriminatory bias towards people using methadone.

Such alleged conduct violates Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed its suit (Civil Action No. 1:18-cv-00303) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The EEOC and Steel Painters agreed to voluntarily settle the case by consent decree before trial. The two-year decree, signed and entered by U.S. District Judge Marcia Crone on Feb. 25, provides for compensatory damages to the employee. The decree also requires the company to modify its prescrip­tion drug verification policy to provide alternative medical verification procedures. The decree also mandates that Steel Painters develop a policy that prohibits disability discrimination and train its managers on the ADA.

"Medically prescribed methadone is a common and safe treatment that enables someone in recovery to regain control of his life," said EEOC Regional Attorney Rudy Sustaita, "The EEOC will remedy situations where an employer takes an adverse employment action against an employee based on unfounded and speculative assumptions."

Addressing emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA, is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

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.