Company Fired Laborer Because of Back Impairment, Federal Agency Charges
PITTSBURGH -- MPW Industrial Services, a provider of industrial cleaning, facility management and labor support services, fired an employee because of his disability in violation of federal law, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.
According to the lawsuit, on the day he was hired as a laborer, Todd Semko completed a medical questionnaire form that revealed he has an implanted Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) unit in his lower back for his back impairment. Semko also noted on the form that he did not need any job modifications or accommodations to perform the essential functions of the job.
The company immediately placed Semko in a training class, but about two hours later he was unexpectedly summoned from the class to speak with the occupational health nurse by telephone. The EEOC charged that the nurse asked Semko about his TENS unit and told him he would not be able to charge the unit at the job site to which he would likely be assigned, a steel plant in Dravosburg, Pa. Semko responded that he charged the TENS unit at home and it held a charge for months so he would not need to recharge the TENS unit at work. Semko also informed the company nurse that he had been medically cleared to work with no restrictions, but the nurse told Semko that he could not be employed because the company could not guarantee a place for him to charge the TENS unit, the EEOC said.
Company records show that it discharged Semko just hours after hiring him because he was "deemed 'not medically qualified'" by its nurse. The company, however, never requested any additional medical information from Semko's doctor regarding his medical condition. The EEOC asserts that the company terminated Semko because of his disability.
Such conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. MPW Industrial Services, Inc., Civil Action No. 2:13-cv-01011) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
"This case illustrates why the ADA was passed," said EEOC Philadelphia Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence. "While employers may ask for medical information from newly hired employees under certain, limited circumstances, companies run afoul of the ADA if they make hiring and firing decisions based on fears or misconceptions about someone's disability or medical treatment."
EEOC district director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. added, "Mr. Semko had been medically released to do the laborer job. By acting rashly and without all the objective, medical facts, the company lost the services of an eager and qualified worker."
One of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan is for the agency to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA and pregnancy-related limitations, among other possible issues.
The Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.