U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
IESI Concedes It Fired Employee for Dyslexia in Violation of ADA
NEW ORLEANS – IESI LA Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of IESI Corporation, a national waste removal firm, will pay $95,000 to settle a disability discrimination suit filed in June 2009 by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The court-approved settlement resolves the charge of a former truck driver, Ronald Harper, who worked for IESI at its facility in Shreveport, La. In its suit, the EEOC charged that IESI violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) when it fired Harper because of his disability, dyslexia, even though Harper was able to perform the essential functions of his job.
According to the EEOC’s suit, on the morning of August 12, 2005, Harper told his new supervisor that he is dyslexic. Approximately four hours later, the supervisor fired Harper, stating that he did not want to take the chance of Harper’s dyslexia causing him to see things “swirly” and have an accident.
After contending for five years that Harper did not have a disability and that he was not fired because of a disability, IESI admitted shortly before the scheduled trial date that Harper does have a disability within the meaning of the ADA, that he was at all relevant times qualified to do his job, and that IESI did dismiss him because of his disability and in violation of federal law. IESI further conceded that the supervisor who fired Harper had failed to engage in the interactive process regarding reasonable accommodation required by federal law. These admissions were filed into the court record.
“It is illegal to fire an employee because of a disability if he can perform the essential functions of his job, and that rule is not limited to physical disabilities,” said EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez. “Unfounded fears, myths, or stereotypes about disabilities cannot be the basis for any personnel action, and it is critical that employers make sure their supervisory and human resources personnel have a thorough understanding of their obligations under the ADA.”
Under the court-ordered consent decree settling the suit, which was entered November 23, 2010 by Judge Elizabeth Foote (EEOC v. IESI LA Corporation, Case No. 5:09-cv-00980 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Shreveport Division), the company will provide annual ADA training to all human resources personnel and managers of IESI and its subsidiaries nationwide. IESI will report to the EEOC for two and a half years on all complaints of disability discrimination and all requests for reasonable accommodations of a disability. The decree also permits the EEOC to inspect IESI’s facilities to ensure compliance with federal law, which requires employers to post notices to employees of their rights to equal employment opportunities. The nationwide training and reporting will benefit IESI’s approximately 2,700 employees, as well as applicants who seek employment with the company.
“I am grateful to the EEOC for seeking justice on my behalf,” Harper commented after the settlement was reached. “I felt really good about the work I was doing and the compliments co-workers and other supervisors gave me on my performance. Then the company fired me out of the blue, just because I am dyslexic. Nobody had ever spoken to me like that in my life. For the first time in five years, I have my confidence back. I am also glad that the EEOC will be able to monitor the company to make sure that what happened to me does not happen to someone else with a disability.”
Gregory Juge, the EEOC’s senior trial attorney in its New Orleans Field Office, commented, “This is a classic case of an employer firing a worker with a disability because of its own misconceptions. Employees with disabilities such as dyslexia are every bit as protected under the ADA as those with more obvious, visible impairments such as blindness or being in a wheelchair.”
The EEOC was represented in the case by trial attorneys Juge and Tanya L. Goldman.
IESI, which was acquired by BFI Canada in 2005, is part of the third largest non-hazardous solid waste management company in North America, according to the company’s website.
The EEOC enforces federal law prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.