Company refused to allow employee with disability to return to work after treatment, federal agency charges
ATLANTA – A Norfolk, Va.-based railway company unlawfully discriminated against an employee because of his disability, degenerative disc disorder, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed Sept. 23 in Atlanta.
According to the EEOC’s suit, Norfolk Southern Railway Company violated federal law by not allowing a laborer to return to work after receiving treatment for his disability and being cleared by his treating physician to return to work with no restrictions.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, Norfolk Southern’s medical director disregarded the treating physician’s opinion as to the employee’s ability to work and determined he was medically disqualified from working without ever examining him. Norfolk Southern subsequently terminated the employee.
Disability discrimination violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to not discriminate against employees with disabilities or a record of a disability. In addition, employers who perceive employees as disabled when they are not disabled also violate the ADA. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Norfolk Southern Railway Company, Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-03126) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC is seeking reinstatement, back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for the employee, as well as injunctive relief designed to prevent future discrimination.
“An employer cannot terminate an employee because of a disability, or merely because it perceives that person to be disabled,” said Robert Dawkins, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta District Office. “Here, the employee was ready, willing and able to work, but was fired based on preconceived notions about his abilities. Such conduct violates the ADA.”
Bernice Williams-Kimbrough, district director of the Atlanta office, said, “The EEOC is committed to stopping workplace disability discrimination in Georgia and across the country. Given the size of the employer, this lawsuit could assist in protecting the rights a large number of employees.”
The Atlanta District Office of the EEOC oversees Georgia and parts of South Carolina.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.