The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. The following are recent cases brought about from the EEOC.
WELCOME MAT FOR MADISON
An Oregon school district has been ordered to allow Jordan “Scooter” Givens to bring his trained autism service dog, Madison, to school with him.
For nearly three years, Scooter’s parents’ efforts to get permission for Madison to accompany Scooter to class in the Hillsboro School District had been fruitless. But after US Attorney Dwight Holton and a senior attorney from the Civil Rights Division met with the district’s superintendent, the school agreed to allow Scooter to be accompanied by the service dog for a trial period. A highly trained animal, Madison provides important assistance to Scooter, recognizing when the student is about to behave in a manner that might endanger him, and then distracting him to prevent the behavior.
“Service animals assist students with disabilities across the United States every day of the school year without incident,” said Thomas E. Perez, an attorney for the Civil Rights Division. “Fears, generalizations and stereotypes are simply insufficient to deny access to a student’s service dog, and the department will continue to provide school districts with technical assistance to make sure they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”
“Kids with autism deserve the same opportunity as the rest of us to grow and learn,” said Holton. “Scooter’s service dog will help him grow up to meet his full potential, which is something we should all expect and hope for our children.”
The ADA requires schools and other public entities and businesses to allow individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by service animals. Service animals cannot be denied access except in rare instances in which their actual behavior poses a direct threat to the safety of others or results in a fundamental alteration of the nature of a program.
UNITED AIRLINES DIPS WINGS
United Airlines will pay $600,000 to a group of reservation agents with disabilities to settle a federal lawsuit. The complaint arose from employees who charged that the carrier violated the ADA by refusing workers with disabilities reduced hourly schedules as a reasonable accommodation, according to the EEOC.
The deal also entails that United end its blanket policy against reduced hourly schedules, while providing training to staffers who administer the company’s reasonable accommodation process, according to the terms of a three-year consent decree approved by the court.
Prior to 2003, United permitted reservations sales and service representatives to work reduced schedules to accommodate employees’ various disabilities, including multiple sclerosis, carpal tunnel and myasthenia gravis. By suddenly abolishing their long-standing practice and policy, United required all reservation sales and service representatives who could not work full-time either to retire or to go on extended leave. Once the leave expired, the employees were terminated, a practice that violated the ADA, the EEOC noted.
“A sweeping policy that disregards individual circumstances doesn’t give someone like me a chance to do my job,” said one employee who maintained a reduced-hour schedule for 23 years prior to the policy change. “I took my case to the EEOC, and I’m glad to know that United is going to stop its blanket policy on work hours.”
Michael Baldonado, an EEOC representative, agreed that decisions about disability accommodation must be made on a case by case basis. “A blanket policy that takes options off the table by setting minimum work hours not only violates the ADA,” Baldonado said, “it also may have a negative impact on the company’s morale, productivity and bottom line.”
With 52,000 employees worldwide and nearly 3,000 flights a day, United Airlines is one of the largest international carriers in the United States.
H&R BLOCK HAS TO PAY
H&R Block Tax Services and its parent companies must pay $25,000 in damages and penalties because they failed to offer equal access to services for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing at more than 11,000 owned-and-franchised offices nationwide, according to the US Justice Department.
The settlement resolves an ADA complaint filed by an individual who is deaf. It requires H&R Block to furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services as necessary to afford a person who is deaf or hard of hearing equal access to the goods, services and accommodations made available to others who patronize the company.
“By signing this agreement, H&R Block has affirmed its commitment to providing effective communication with people who are deaf and hard of hearing not only at their tax-preparation offices in San Antonio, where the complaint originated, but at their locations across the country,” said Thomas E. Perez, an attorney for the Civil Rights Division. “The agreement will ensure that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have equal access to tax-preparation services.”
The settlement requires that H&R Block provide such auxiliary aids and services as qualified signlanguage interpreters when needed to ensure effective communication.
The company must also adopt and enforce a policy on effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing for all H&R Block offices nationwide, post the policy on the company website and in employee manuals, and distribute the policy to current and new employees and contractors.
H&R Block will pay $5,000 in damages to the individual who filed the ADA complaint, as well as a $20,000 civil penalty.
The ADA prohibits discrimination against customers with disabilities by businesses that serve the public. These entities must provide equal access to customers who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as to individuals who are blind or have low vision.
SCHOOLS LEARN LESSON
Nobel Learning Communities (NLC), which operates a nationwide network of more than 180 schools, has agreed to pay $215,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit brought by the Justice Department. The complaint alleged that NLC violated the ADA by excluding children with disabilities from its programs. The children in question had autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and global developmental delays. NLC denied the allegations.
“It is illegal, under the ADA, to discriminate against children with disabilities,” said Thomas E. Perez, an attorney for the Civil Rights Divison. “Just like public schools, private schools must make reasonable modifications of policies to permit children with disabilities to participate fully in the programs they offer. This agreement ensures that children will not be denied quality preschool and other educational opportunities based upon their disabilities.”
NLC has adopted and will implement a formal policy to ensure it will operate its programs, facilities, and services in a non-discriminatory manner and in compliance with Title III of the ADA. The company will also publicize its disability non-discrimination policy to its principals, teachers, and other staff at all facilities within its network. Finally, it will post this information on its main website, as well as on its member schools’ websites.
The company operates under a variety of names, including Chesterbrook Academy, Merryhill School and Evergreen Academy. Its campuses, which range from preschool to high school, can be found in more than a dozen states around the country.