California HR, Employment Law

EEOC Goes After Employers for Disability, Pay Discrimination Claims

On June 5, 2017, Prince George’s County agreed to pay $145,402 and furnish significant equitable relief to settle a federal pay discrimination lawsuit. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Karen” had a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering and more than 5 years of engineering experience when she was hired for an engineer III position with the Prince George’s County Department of Environment.discrimination

The EEOC said the county rebuffed Karen’s efforts to negotiate a higher starting salary that matched her experience and education but hired a man for a comparable engineer III position and paid him the higher salary he requested just 2 weeks later, even though the employees performed substantially equal work. Also, the county promoted and paid a man who held an engineer III position and a man in an engineer II job higher wages than Karen, even though the engineer II had less experience and performed less complex duties.

On March 21, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Roger W. Titus ruled in favor of the EEOC, finding that the county paid Karen lower wages than it paid to male employees who performed equal work in violation of the Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963.

In addition to providing $139,633 in lost wages and liquidated damages to Karen and $5,769 in costs to the EEOC, the 3-year consent decree resolving the suit bars Prince George’s County from engaging in sex-based wage discrimination. The county will also increase Karen’s salary by $24,723 to ensure parity with her male comparators. Karen continues to work for the county as an engineer IV.

The county will hire a consultant to ensure that its compensation policies, procedures, and individual salary determinations comply with the EPA. The consultant will provide training on federal antidiscrimination laws to the county’s Position Review Board and all managers and supervisors in the Department of Environment. Finally, the county is required to report how it handles complaints of sex-based wage discrimination to the EEOC and post a notice regarding the settlement. EEOC v. Prince George’s County, MD D.C., Civil Action No. 8:15-cv-02942-RWT.

Baltimore Logistics Company Sued for Disability Bias

On July 17, 2017, the EEOC announced that it has filed a lawsuit against Capstone Logistics, LLC, a Baltimore provider of outsourced supply chain solutions to distribution centers in the grocery, food service, and retail industries. The lawsuit alleges that the company violated federal law when it refused to hire an applicant because of his deafness.

According to the EEOC’s suit, “Henry,” who is deaf, applied for a warehouse position with Capstone. The site manager at Capstone’s warehouse in Jessup e-mailed Henry to schedule an interview. When Henry arrived for the interview on May 6, 2016, the manager canceled it and said he would reschedule so that HR and an interpreter could be present. However, Capstone did not contact Henry. When he called using a video relay, the site manager said the HR department was working to contact an interpreter and it would take another week or two to schedule an interview.

On May 16, 2016, the site manager sent Henry 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 Henry about his ability to perform any of the essential functions of the warehouse position with or without reasonable accommodations.

According to the EEOC, the alleged conduct violated 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 provide 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 the best available objective evidence. EEOC v. Capstone Logistics, LLC, MD D.C., Case No. 1:17-cv-01980.

California Company Pays Up to $800K to Settle Disability Bias Claim

On June 30, 2017, the EEOC announced that Sensient Natural Ingredients, LLC, a division of Sensient Technologies, has agreed to pay up to $800,000 ($600,000 to identified claimants and $200,000 to a potential group of unidentified claimants) and provide other significant relief to settle a charge of disability discrimination.

According to the EEOC, several Sensient workers at its Livingston, California, location took extended leaves of absence for disability-related medical care, including surgeries and cancer treatments. The EEOC charged that employees either were discharged for violating the company’s restrictive leave policy or were required to return to work without accommodations or restrictions. The EEOC maintained that when employees attempted to return to work, even without restrictions, Sensient refused to allow them to return and fired them instead.

As part of the consent decree settling the suit, Sensient agreed to pay $600,000 to a class of eight claimants and $200,000 to a contingent class fund that will be distributed if other claimants come forward. In addition to the monetary relief, Sensient agreed to designate an internal equal employment opportunity monitor to review and revise, as necessary, its policies against disability discrimination and retaliation and its reasonable accommodation policies, which include obtaining internal and external legal review of a denial of an accommodation.

Sensient further agreed to distribute the revised policies to all employees, provide training for both employees and management personnel, and designate an internal ADA coordinator who will assist in maintaining records. Finally, the EEOC reserved the right to monitor Sensient’s compliance with the three-year consent decree. EEOC v. Sensient Dehydrated Flavors Company, Sensient Natural Ingredients, LLC, et al, CA DC, No. 1:15-cv-01431-DAD-BAM.

Kevin C. McCormick, an editor of Maryland Employment Law Letter, can be reached at kmccormick@wtplaw.com or 410-347-8779.