The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

PRESS RELEASE
9-25-09

JIM WALTER RESOURCES COAL COMPANY DISCRIMINATED AGAINST DEAF MINEWORKER

Mineworker Forced To Work In Areas Of The Mine Which Damaged His Hearing Aids, EEOC Charges

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Jim Walter Resources, the world's largest producer of Blue Creek coal, violated federal law by refusing to grant a reasonable accommodation to a deaf miner and subjecting him to a hostile working environment because of his disability, according to a lawsuit filed today by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC suit seeks relief on behalf of Raymond Roe1, a long-time employee of Jim Walter Resources who is hearing-impaired. According to the EEOC suit, Roe had worked as a mineworker at Jim Walter Resources’ Mine #5 from 1985 until that mine was closed. During that time the company made certain that he was assigned to perform his duties under conditions which did not interfere with or damage his hearing aids, such as excessive moisture or exposure to electromagnetic or other interference.

When Mine #5 was closed, Roe transferred to Mine #7, where he requested the same accommodation. However, the company refused to grant him the accommodation. Since at least April 2007, Roe has been frequently forced to work in portions of the mine which contain high levels of moisture or involve exposure to electromagnetic or other interference, thereby damaging his hearing aids and exposing Roe to increased risk of injury or harm.

The EEOC alleges that Jim Walters not only failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to Roe but also discriminated against him in the terms and conditions of his employment and subjected him to a disability-based hostile work environment by placing him in situations where his hearing aids might fail. Such alleged practices violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The EEOC’s lawsuit (Civil Action No. 7:09-cv-1895) was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama after the agency unsuccessfully attempted to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. The suit seeks monetary relief for Roe, a court order requiring the company to implement new policies and practices designed to prevent discrimination and harassment, employee training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the work site and other injunctive relief.

“Employees with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations to facilitate workplace success. Unfortunately, in this case, a valued, long-term employee was not permitted to continue receiving the accommodation he was given previously. This refusal of an accommodation placed Roe in an environment where his hearing aids might fail, which has significant safety implications in a mine,” said Delner Franklin-Thomas, Director for the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office.

C. Emanuel Smith, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office, said: “Employers should be aware that the Commission will act to protect the rights of people with disabilities. They should think twice before withdrawing an accommodation that has permitted an employee to work successfully in a safe environment.”

According to company information, Jim Walter Resources is a subsidiary of Walter Energy, Inc. Its businesses consist of mining high quality coal from Alabama's Blue Creek seam and related methane gas operations.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.


Footnote

1 Raymond Roe is a pseudonym used by the EEOC to protect the privacy of the employee involved.


This page was last modified on September 25, 2009.

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