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Americans with Disabilities Act Update: Tyson Foods Agrees to Pay Back Wages and Amend its Medical Assessment Policy to Settle Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

above-the-bar-logo.jpgTyson Food, Inc. (“Tyson”) recently agreed to pay $35,000 and amend its medical assessment process to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC. Tyson is one of the world’s largest processors of chicken, beef, and pork and employs over 117,000 people at its 400 facilities and offices throughout the country.

The EEOC filed this lawsuit back in May, 2010 charging Tyson with refusing to hire Mark White, a former employee, for a maintenance position because he had epilepsy. If you have been discriminated against because of a disability regarding any aspect of employment, our attorneys can help you evaluate your claims to ensure that you are not denied your workplace rights.

The EEOC alleged that Tyson’s actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) because White’s epilepsy had been controlled by medication for twelve years, during which time he had been previously employed by Tyson on two occasions. Since White was last hired, Tyson had put in place a new medical assessment procedure and refused to hire him because he did not pass a medical evaluation required for applicants with epilepsy to determine if he could perform the job safely. The EEOC charged that the doctor, who made this evaluation for Tyson, did not examine White, but made his determination based on outdated medical research in deciding that White could not perform this job safely. Meanwhile, Tyson employed several other individuals, having epilepsy, at the same time, who had been grandfathered in.

The consent decree, which must be approved by the district court judge, requires Tyson to pay White $35,000 in back wages and compensatory damages as well as implement a new assessment procedure for similar cases. For example, if an applicant who is disqualified from being hired because of Tyson’s required medical assessment, he or she has the right to a second medical assessment at his or her expense. Additionally, it requires an independent and determinative third medical assessment to be made for any applicant not hired after the second assessment. The decree also requires Tyson to train its employees who are involved in the assessment procedure, to post notification to its employees, and report its compliance to the EEOC.

The ADA makes it illegal for private employers as well as state and local governments to discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities with respect to hiring, firing, promotion, compensation, training and other term or condition of employment. If you are a private employer with 15 or more employers, you are covered by the ADA.

Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of the impairment; or is regarded as having the impairment. A qualified employee with a disability is someone who with or without reasonable accommodation can perform the essential functions of the job. If you are an employer, you are required to make reasonable accommodations to an employee or applicant’s known disability if it would not impose an “undue hardship” on your business operations. For example, some reasonable accommodations can include making an existing facility accessible to a person with a disability, modifying work schedules, or job restructuring. However, you do not have to provide an accommodation if it poses an “undue hardship” such as significant difficulty or expense given your company’s size, financial resources, and business structure.

It is a waste of talent and resources when disabled persons are denied employment opportunities or discriminated against because of a disability when they are otherwise qualified to perform the essential requirements of a job. If you have suffered from discrimination because of a disability, call our ADA Attorneys at Villanueva & Sanchala at (800) 893-9645 to help you protect your workplace rights.

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