Company Fired Laborer Because of Back Impairment, Federal Agency Charged
PITTSBURGH — MPW Industrial Services Inc., a provider of industrial cleaning, facility management and labor support services, will pay $37,500 and furnish significant equitable relief to resolve a disability discrimination lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, MPW Industrial Services terminated Todd Semko from his position as a laborer before his first day of work after it learned during a fitness-for-duty evaluation that he has an implanted Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) unit in his lower back for a back impairment. The EEOC said MPW Industrial Services fired Semko because a company occupational nurse feared that he would not be able to charge the TENS unit at the Dravosburg, Pa., worksite to which he might be assigned even though Semko explained that he did not need to charge the unit at work or during working hours. Semko was not under any medical restrictions and the company never requested any additional medical documentation from Semko’s doctor or explored providing a reasonable accommodation instead of terminating him.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employers from refusing to hire or firing a qualified individual because the individual is disabled or the employer incorrectly perceives the individual to have a disability. The ADA also requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. MPW Industrial Services, Inc., Civil Action No.2-13:cv-01011) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In addition to the monetary relief to Semko, the two-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit enjoins MPW Industrial Services from engaging in discrimination based on disability and from retaliation. The company will create and distribute to all employees policies prohibiting any future discrimination, harassment and retaliation. These policies shall include a complaint procedure to encourage employees to come forward with complaints of violations of the policies against discrimination, harassment and retaliation, as well as a supervisor accountability requirement. Moreover, MPW Industrial Services will provide training on the ADA to human resources staff, the occupational nurse, and all personnel whose job responsibilities include collecting or reviewing medical information, conducting fitness for duty examinations, acting on requests for a reasonable accommodation or conducting discrimination investigations. The company will also post a remedial notice.
“While employers may ask for medical information from newly hired employees under certain, limited circumstances, this case demonstrates the risks and costs involved when a company makes uninformed or speculative judgments about an employee or applicant’s medical condition or medical treatment,” said EEOC District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr.
EEOC Philadelphia Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, “We are pleased that this settlement compensates Mr. Semko for his lost wages and other damages and that the extensive remedial measures will ensure that all applicants and employees are evaluated based on their ability to do the job and not based on unfounded biases or fears about someone’s disability. This comprehensive settlement is also designed to ensure that MPW Industrial Services provides applicants and employees with a reasonable accommodation if needed to do the essential functions of the job, as required by federal law.”
The Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov.