Here’s a quick tip that can save your company lots of money and trouble. Remind managers who take job applications that they can’t automatically turn away applicants with disabilities. That can cause a lawsuit that could result in huge punitive damages.
Recent case: Jacqueline, who is deaf, saw an online job listing: stock clerk to package cosmetics in a warehouse. She had worked in a warehouse before without trouble. Jacqueline took a sign language interpreter with her to the job site and tried to apply for the position.
When she arrived, the company representative told her she could not apply. He explained he believed the environment was too dangerous for a deaf person.
Jacqueline sought help from the EEOC, which took up her disability discrimination case.
The company refused to settle and the case went to a jury trial. After hearing the details, the jury concluded that the company violated the ADA. It said Jacqueline was due $14,400 in back pay, $20,000 for emotional pain and suffering—plus $150,000 in punitive damages for ignoring the ADA.
Although the trial court reduced the punitive damages to $68,800, the company still appealed. It didn’t win. (EEOC v. Service Temps, No. 11-10262, 5th Cir., 2012)
Final note: Always give disabled applicants a chance to show they can perform the essential functions of the job. Remember that they are entitled to reasonable accommodations during the application process, too. That includes the use of a sign language interpreter.
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