U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Utility Company Prevented Employees From Returning to Work and Refused to Hire Applicants Because of Disabilities, Federal Agency Charged
ATLANTA - An electric utility company headquartered in Atlanta unlawfully discriminated against a class of employees and applicants because of their disabilities, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today in Atlanta.
According to the EEOC's suit, Georgia Power Company violated federal law by not allowing employees to return to work after receiving treatment for their conditions and being cleared by their treating physicians. The agency also charges Georgia Power with refusing to hire applicants because of their disabilities or because it perceived them as disabled. According to the EEOC's complaint, Georgia Power's medical director disregarded the employees' and applicants' treating physicians' opinions as to their ability to work and, without independently evaluating them, simply recommended against hiring or returning them to work. Georgia Power subsequently discharged the employees who were not allowed to return.
Disability discrimination violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and applicants with disabilities or with a record of a disability. In addition, it is a violation of the ADA for employers to discriminate against employees because the employer perceives such persons to be disabled. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Georgia Power Company, Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-03225) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC is seeking reinstatement, back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for the employees and applicants, as well as injunctive relief designed to prevent future discrimination practices.
"An employer cannot terminate or refuse to hire an employee because of a disability, or merely because it perceives that person to be disabled," said Robert Dawkins, regional attorney for the EEOC's Atlanta District Office. "Here, the employees and applicants were ready, willing and able to work, but the company refused to let them work because of their disabilities or what it assumed were disabilities. Such conduct violates federal law."
Bernice Williams-Kimbrough, district director of the Atlanta office, said, "The EEOC is committed to stopping workplace disability discrimination in Georgia and across the country. Given the size of the employer and the number of people it employs in Georgia, this lawsuit could assist in protecting the rights of a large number of employees."
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.
The Atlanta District Office of the EEOC enforces the federal employment discrimination laws in Georgia and parts of South Carolina. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.