EEOC Claims Wellness Center Illegally Fired Employee With Disability

Baker Wellness Center, Baton Rouge, LA (Google Street view photo)

EEOC suit says employees are not required to disclose personal health information on employment applications

EEOC – Baker Wellness Center, Inc., a Baton Rouge, La., area adult day care and wellness center, illegally fired a Direct Service Worker (DSW) because she had a disability–diabetes, and in retaliation for her not giving prohibited medical information on its application, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, in October, 2011, Brenda Lanus filled out an application to be a DSW. The suit alleges that Baker Wellness made unlawful medical inquiries on Lanus’s job application, without having first made a conditional offer of employment. One question asked whether she had any physical condition which would limit her ability to perform the job in question, which consisted mostly of driving clients, to which she truthfully responded “no.”

Lanus was hired and performed her job without incident until December 2011 when she experienced a few minutes of blurred vision. She informed Baker Wellness of the incident and the fact that she had diabetes. At that point, Baker Wellness required her to undergo medical examinations to be cleared for duty. In the meantime, Baker Wellness continued to assign Lanus to drive clients, which she did without incident, the EEOC charged.

In early January 2012, at the company’s insistence, Lanus provided Baker Wellness with a doctor’s note, which recommended that Lanus not drive until she was cleared by her eye doctor. Baker Wellness then removed Lanus from her work schedule, without reassigning her to a job not requiring driving, such as cleaning duties, which a facilities manager had told Lanus earlier she could perform if she had to stop driving temporarily.

EEOC – Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The EEOC further alleged that in mid-January, Lanus provided Baker Wellness with a release from her eye doctor, stating that she could return to work and placing no restrictions on her duties. Nevertheless, Baker Wellness fired her immediately, stating in the termination letter: “Brenda Lanus [is] no longer with this facility due to her medical problems which were not disclosed at the time of her hire.”

Such an alleged series of incidents violated the ADA, which prohibits asking any medical questions at the pre-hire state; forbids singling out individuals with disabilities for post-hire medical exams; requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations where necessary on a temporary or permanent basis; prohibits firing an employee for having a disability; and pro­hibits retaliation for failure to comply with illegal questions.

The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Baker Wellness, Civ. No. 3:14-CV-00808) in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting Baker Wellness from engaging in further disability discrimination. The suit also seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of Lanus.

Keith Hill, director of the EEOC’s New Orleans Field Office, said, “Employers cannot fire an employee just because of a physical impairment that does not affect the ability to perform the job properly and safely. Federal law prohibits it.”

“The days when employers treat an employee as disposable because of a physical impairment, like diabetes, should be long gone,” said EEOC Houston Regional Attorney Jim Sacher, whose jurisdiction includes Louisiana. “The ADA has prohibited disability discrimin­ation since 1990. The EEOC will continue to prosecute violations, in order to provide relief to victims, educate the employer community, and foster compliance.”

Eliminating policies and practices that discourage or prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC’s investigative or enforcement efforts, is one of six national priorities identified by the Commission’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). Another SEP priority is for the Commission to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA among others.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Additional information is available on the agency’s website at www.eeoc.gov.

By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

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