ADA: EEOC Enforcement

The EEOC has taken a proactive approach to enforcing the ADA’s protections for disabled workers. In addition to issuing enforcement guidelines, the agency has settled many cases for substantial sums.

Two notable examples:

The U.S. Postal Service agreed to pay $61 million in what lawyers say is the country’s largest disability discrimination class-action settlement. More than 7,000 plaintiffs claimed that the Postal Service routinely moved workers injured on the job to menial positions that gave them no chance of advancement.

The case started when postal employee Chandler Glover, who said the high-pitched noise of the mail sorting machinery he operated in Denver caused him pain and hearing loss, filed an EEOC complaint. When he returned to work after leave for medical treatment, he applied for a promotion in the same unit, saying the machine noise wasn’t a problem when he wore earplugs. But the agency reclassified him as a janitor, a position he held until he retired in 2001.

Echostar. A jury awarded a blind employee $8 million in punitive damages after Echostar refused to purchase relatively inexpensive adaptive technology. The company required that he use a computer not designed for use by the blind and then told him that he failed the computer test. The employee was fully capable of operating a computer equipped with the proper software.

The punitive damages will no doubt be reduced on appeal (they exceed the statutory maximum of $300,000), but they clearly show the jury was incensed.