Warehouse Refused to Hire Qualified Applicant Because He Is Deaf, Federal Agency Says
BALTIMORE - Capstone Logistics LLC, a leading provider of outsourced supply chain solutions to distribution centers in the grocery, food service, retail and other industries, violated federal law when it refused to hire an applicant because of his deafness, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, George Harris, who is deaf, applied for a warehouse position with Capstone and the site manager at Capstone's warehouse in Jessup, Md., emailed Harris to schedule an interview. When Harris arrived for the interview on May 6, 2016, the site manager canceled the interview and said they would reschedule so that human resources and an interpreter could be present.
However, Capstone did not contact Harris, the EEOC said. When Harris called using a video relay, the site manager said the human resources department was working to contact an interpreter and that it would take another week or two to schedule an interview.
On May 16, the site manager instead sent Harris a text message saying, "…we have determined that there is no job that we can offer that would be safe for you. There is just too much equipment traffic in our work areas and being able to hear a horn or equipment in operation is paramount for safety. I would not want to put you in a dangerous position." Capstone never asked Harris about his ability to perform any of the essential functions of a warehouse position, with or without reasonable accommodation, the EEOC charged.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to undertake a rigorous assessment of whether a disabled employee poses a safety threat in the workplace. The EEOC's regulations state that an employer's direct threat assessment must be "based on a reasonable medical judgment that relies on the most current medical knowledge and/or on the best available objective evidence."
The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Capstone Logistics, LLC, Civil Action No. 1:17-cv-01980) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. As part of the suit, the EEOC is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief prohibiting the company from engaging in any employment practices that discriminate based on disability in the future.
"This case should send a strong message to all employers that they must make hiring decisions based on the applicant's qualifications, not speculation about his disability," said Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., district director of EEOC's Philadelphia District Office. "There is a wealth of resources to assist employers in making hiring decisions and providing a reasonable accommodation, including information on our website or on the Job Accommodation Network's website."
EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "Mr. Harris was qualified for the warehouse laborer position but Capstone refused to communicate with him about his ability to do the job let alone explore possible reasonable accommodations that would address any purported safety concerns. The EEOC will take vigorous action when an employer makes a hiring decision based on a bias against or outdated stereotypes about individuals with a disability."
Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, especially class-based recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate against racial, ethnic and religious groups, older workers, women, and people with disabilities, is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). Addressing emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA, is another SEP priority.
The EEOC's Philadelphia District Office has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio. Attorneys in the EEOC Philadelphia District Office also prosecute discrimination cases in Washington, D.C. and parts of Virginia.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.