The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently filed lawsuits against two major corporations, claiming unlawful employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Both Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest managed healthcare consortium, and retail giant Kmart face allegations of failing to make reasonable accommodations for a current employee and prospective employee, respectively, with a disability. If found, these actions would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law protecting American citizens from employment discrimination based on an actual or perceived disability.
The ADA prohibits employers from basing employment decisions, such as hiring, promotions, demotions, or firing solely on a person’s disability so long as the disability does not prevent the employee from successfully performing job duties. Furthermore, an employer must provide reasonable accommodation for qualified employees with disabilities to help them adequately perform their jobs if the accommodations do not cause undue hardship for the employer. Reasonable accommodations can be necessary for a disabled person to complete the application process, complete actual job tasks, or to enjoy the equal privileges and benefits of employment as abled employees. Some examples of reasonable accommodations include:
-Making facilities accessible and/or holding interviews or meetings in an accessible location.
-Modifying work schedules to allow part-time hours or remote work.
-Modifying work equipment or acquiring new technology such as a video relay service for phones.
-Adapting training materials, policies, and tests.
-Providing qualified assistants, interpreters, or readers.
Both lawsuits involve failure to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled persons in the early stages of the employment process. In June 2008, Kaiser Permanente hired a food service worker with hydrocephalus, a condition that causes problems with concentration, memory, and dizziness. The worker requested additional time with a special coach to help him finish the necessary training for his job. This coach would have been provided at no cost by the non-profit Toward Maximum Independence, which assists disabled persons in various ways. However, Kaiser Permanente denied the request and instead fired the worker in August 2008.
Kmart offered a man an associate position on the condition that he submitted to a drug test. Though he had no objections to submitting to a test, he told the Kmart hiring manager that he would be unable to provide a urine sample due to kidney failure and dialysis. He offered to submit to a blood or hair test instead, however Kmart revoked the employment offer because he could not complete a urinalysis without further discussion.
The EEOC filed lawsuits because it believes that providing a training coach at no cost and exploring other drug testing options are both reasonable accommodations that would not cause Kaiser Permanente or Kmart undue hardship. The EEOC claims that both companies’ denials of the requests were unjustifiable and constituted violations of the ADA. If you have experienced discrimination in your place of employment for any reason, it is important that you contact an experienced employment attorney at HKM as soon as possible.