U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Nationwide Temp Agency Refused to Refer Deaf Worker in Wisconsin For Food Production Job Because of His Disability, Agency Charged
MADISON, Wis. – Olsten Staffing Services Corp., a nationwide temporary employment agency, will pay $75,000 to settle a disability discrimination suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
In its suit, the EEOC charged that Melville, N.Y.-based Olsten violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to refer a deaf job applicant for temporary employment as a production worker at Main Street Ingredients, a La Crosse, Wis., food products manufacturer. The EEOC said that on two occasions, a staffing specialist at Olsten’s La Crosse office decided not to refer the applicant to Main Street because he is deaf, despite his meeting all the actual qualifications for the job.
EEOC Chicago District Director John Rowe, who managed the federal agency’s pre-suit investigation, said that e-mails obtained by the EEOC showed that Olsten’s staffing specialist had flagged the applicant’s disability as a “concern.” Rowe said that when the staffing specialist was later asked by the applicant why he did not get the job, the specialist falsely attributed the decision to concerns expressed by Main Street, when in fact Main Street had not expressed such concerns. Evidence obtained by the EEOC indicated that hearing ability was not a requirement of the food production job at Main Street; in fact, according to Rowe, workplace noise required a number of employees there to wear ear protection that prevented them from hearing while working.
The ADA requires that temporary employment agencies evaluate job applicants with disabilities on the basis of their ability to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation, the essential functions of the jobs for which they are being considered. The ADA prohibits such agencies from declining to refer a qualified individual because of his disability. Moreover, if an agency has reason to believe that one of its clients is discriminating against one of the agency’s temporary employees in any phase of the employment relationship (including hiring and referral), the agency has an affirmative obligation under the law to take reasonable steps within its control to remedy that discrimination.
“This case is a reminder that employment agencies, no less than any other employer, have important obligations under the ADA,” said John Hendrickson, the EEOC regional attorney for the Chicago District, which includes Wisconsin. “Decisions made by agencies concerning whether to refer a job applicant must be based on qualifications, period—not on the basis of a disability.”
The EEOC’s lawsuit was filed on September 29, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (EEOC v. Olsten Staffing Services Corp., Case No 08-cv-565). The case was resolved by a two-year consent decree which was entered today by U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen L. Crocker, who presided over the case. In addition to requiring Olsten to pay lost wages of $5,000 and damages of $70,000, the decree contains an injunction prohibiting Olsten’s La Crosse office from engaging in any further discrimination on the basis of disability. The decree also requires that Olsten provide training to its employees concerning the ADA and report any further complaints of discrimination to the EEOC for the next two years.
The government’s litigation effort was led by EEOC Trial Attorneys Justin Mulaire and Laurie Elkin and EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.