EEOC Targets Hiring Barriers for Applicants with Disabilities

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer October 11, 2017
EEOC Targets Hiring Barriers for Applicants with Disabilities

Two recent lawsuits that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed against employers highlight the agency's focus on eliminating hiring barriers for people with disabilities.

The EEOC is suing Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas for failing to accommodate a deaf applicant's hearing disability when the applicant filled out an online application. The agency also filed a class-action lawsuit against a Dollar General warehouse facility in Bessemer, Ala., for conditioning job offers on applicants' passing "extensive, and often, highly invasive" medical examinations.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Screening and Evaluating Candidates]

Failure to Accommodate

The EEOC claimed that Dallas-based Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas refused to assist a deaf applicant for a claims examiner job in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Sheryl Meador could not complete the audio portion of an online assessment because of her disability. She could not hear the audio portion of the exam, and there were no captions or other visible accommodations that would allow her to complete the application. She told her recruiter that she was deaf and requested a reasonable accommodation. The recruiter acknowledged the request, Meador claims, but allegedly then stopped communicating with Meador and didn't respond to her follow-up communications.

"Sheryl Meador … made repeated efforts to communicate with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas and asked for an accommodation so she could apply," said EEOC attorney Joel Clark, who is based in Dallas. "For her to be ignored is both unconscionable and unlawful."

A spokesman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Cracking Down on Post-Offer Medical Exams

The EEOC lawsuit against discount retailer Dollar General asserts a class-action claim against the warehouse facility for requiring job candidates who had been offered jobs at the company to undergo medical examinations in violation of the ADA.

The commission claims that Dollar General discriminated against the candidates when it used medical exams to screen out people with disabilities using criteria that were neither job-related nor consistent with business necessity. The exams included the taking of vital signs, drug testing, a vision test, a medical and family health questionnaire, a review of medications, and a physical. Requirements included having at least 20/50 vision in both eyes. Dollar General disqualified candidate Vincent Jackson when he revealed that he can't see out of his right eye.  

The company imposed additional medical standards that tended to screen out people with disabilities, according to the EEOC's suit. For example, candidates whose blood pressures exceeded 160/100 and those with a blood sugar level over a certain threshold were disqualified from employment.

"Employers cannot use post-offer medical examinations to weed out individuals with disabilities," said EEOC District Director Delner Franklin-Thomas, who is based in Birmingham, Ala. "The imposition of selection criteria not rooted in business necessity, but rather in stereotypes about what individuals with certain impairments can and cannot do, violates the ADA."

In addition to its allegations under the ADA, the EEOC's suit asserts a class claim against Dollar General under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). GINA prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on a worker's family medical history or other genetic information and prohibits soliciting a job applicant's family medical history.

The warehouse unlawfully asked for protected genetic information from candidates as part of the medical exams, according to the EEOC.

Dollar General said in a statement that the company "denies the EEOC's allegations and will vigorously defend the lawsuit."

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