Can an Employer Discriminate Against You for Your Own Good?

January 14, 2013

Employers who face employment discrimination charges often come across as villainous and uncaring. But sometimes, employers that may have actually been trying to look out for an employee end up discriminating against them. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), this still does not make the discrimination acceptable. The following three scenarios all resulted in workplace discrimination actions being filed against the employers, two under the Americans with Disabilities Act and one under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was enacted in 1978, and was added to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under the section regarding sexual discrimination. This new section made it illegal to discriminate against women who were pregnant or had medical problems related to pregnancy or childbirth. On November 13, 2012, the EEOC issued a press release stating it had filed a lawsuit under this portion of the act on behalf of a pregnant woman who had been terminated. The hotel franchise owner said she was terminated because her job as a housekeeper required that she be around cleaning products, which was unsafe for her baby. Whether this was truly the reason, or if they terminated her in anticipation of her missing work once the baby was born, is irrelevant. A woman cannot be fired because she is pregnant.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 to protect those with disabilities from being discriminated against in employment, housing, and public services. Title I of the act covers workplace disability discrimination. A case filed by the EEOC on December 4, 2012, involves an employee who had a prosthetic leg. She was assigned to a temporary job by a placement agency in Illinois. Her job was to inspect or package electronics for shipping. While she was working on her second day, she was told that she was being removed from the position because the employer was afraid someone would bump into her. The placement agency promised to find her something else where she could sit down and work. She was never contacted about another job, so she filed a complaint with the EEOC. After trying to negotiate a settlement, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against both the placement agency and the electronics company. In the press release, the EEOC states, "Firing employees because of baseless fears and stereotypes about their disabilities is illegal, and the EEOC will defend the victims of such unlawful conduct."

The most recent case was filed on January 10, 2013 by the EEOC against a Maryland HVAC company. According to the press release, the employee had worked for the company for six years when he had to have heart surgery in September 2012. About four months later, his doctor cleared him to return to work. Instead of welcoming him back, the company fired him, saying he was "unable to return to [the] job as a Sheet Metal Mechanic due to [an] ongoing medical condition." When the employee applied for an open position with the company over a year later, the company refused to hire him even though he was qualified for the job. As a result, the EEOC's lawsuit also claims that the worker wasn't re-hired in retaliation for filing his disability discrimination complaint.

In all of the above cases, it appears on the surface that the employers were acting in the best interests of the employees when they refused to let them work in a certain environment. But according to federal laws and decisions made in previous cases by the Supreme Court, employers are not allowed to make this type of call, even if they are genuinely concerned about their employees' safety. If you think you have been fired or passed over for a job because of discrimination, even if it was purportedly in your best interest, contact an experienced Kentucky employment law attorney to determine what action should be taken.

Sources:

EEOC Sues Fidelity Engineering Corporation for Disability Discrimination and Retaliation; EEOC; January 10, 2013

EEOC Sues Staffmark and Sony for Disability Discrimination; EEOC; December 12, 2012

Owner of Comfort Inn and Suites in Taylor, Mich. Sued by EEOC for Pregnancy Discrimination; EEOC; November 13, 2012