Meter Reader Position Denied to Applicant with Eye Condition, Federal Agency Charges
HONOLULU – Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc. (HECO) will pay $50,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that HECO denied an employee a meter reader position due to an eye condition. HECO, an electric distribution company, is the primary energy provider for the Hawaiian islands.
According to the EEOC, the employee, who has a congenital eye condition resulting in blindness in one eye, has worked for HECO since 2004. In April 2010, the employee applied for and was denied the position of meter reader due to HECO’s unfounded presumption that he could not do the job because of his disability. However, the EEOC asserted that the employee, with perfect vision in the other eye, was fully capable of doing the primary job duties of reading and recording changes in electric meters at different customer locations.
Refusal to hire a qualified individual due to his disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In September 2011, the EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii (EEOC v. Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., Case No. CV11 00592-DAE-KSC). Besides the monetary relief, the three-year consent decree settling the suit mandates HECO to designate an ADA coordinator to appropriately handle all disability-related inquiries by employees. HECO will also hire an outside monitor to consult with the coordinator and provide extensive training to all human resources, corporate compliance, and newly hired and promoted staff on their ADA obligations and responsibilities. All other staff will also undergo training on disability discrimination, and HECO will revise and post a new company policy and complaint procedure at all facilities. The EEOC will monitor compliance with the decree, and HECO will report its handling of future complaints of disability discrimination.
“People with disabilities cannot be excluded from jobs due to ill-conceived assumptions about their abilities,” said Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, which includes Hawaii in its jurisdiction. “Employers need to earnestly analyze the job at hand and assess whether a candidate with a disability is able to perform the essential functions of that job with or without a reasonable accommodation.
Timothy Riera, local director for the EEOC’s Honolulu Local Office, added, “Nationally, complaints of disability discrimination at the EEOC have been on the rise, now comprising about 26% of all charges received. Workers with disabilities are realizing more and more that they have employment rights under federal law which the EEOC will vigorously enforce.”
According to the company’s website, www.heco.com, the Hawaiian Electric Company and its subsidiaries provide energy to 95% of Hawaii’s 1.2 million residents on the islands of O’ahu, Maui, Hawai'i Island, Lana'i and Moloka'i.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.