Back problems are some of the most common physical ailments among employees — and among the most tricky to deal with under the ADA. Two companies recently learned that lesson the hard way.
In the first case, Florida-based American Tool & Mold was ordered to pay $150,000 for violating federal disability discrimination law by withdrawing a job offer because of an applicant’s old back injury.
According to a lawsuit filed by the EEOC, ATM made a provisional job offer to Michael Matanic as a process engineer, pending a health release. The company conducted a post-offer medical examination which revealed that Matanic had a successful back surgery six years prior — but he couldn’t provide a medical release indicating he had no restrictions.
ATM’s post-offer medical examination provider refused to perform a back screen and complete Matanic’s physical examination.
So ATM, falsely regarding Matanic as disabled, withdrew the job offer and terminated him, the EEOC alleged.
Before his firing, Matanic actually performed the job at ATM for two months while he attempted to obtain the requested medical release. At the time of his termination, Matanic was in good health and had a recent medical examination showing that he had no physical limitations on his ability to perform his job.
The final judgment, besides the $150,000 penalty, requires ATM to provide notice to job applicants that it is an equal opportunity employer; create and implement a disability discrimination policy; provide ATM’s management with live training on disability discrimination each year for four years; and post notice of the lawsuit in its facilities.
In addition, the judgment requires ATM to conduct a functional job analysis and create written job descriptions for each position subject to a post-offer medical examination. Finally, ATM must report to the EEOC twice a year concerning individuals not hired or terminated as a result of employment medical screenings and people who make complaints of disability discrimination.
Failed to engage in ‘interactive process’
The second case involves Norfolk, Va.-based Norfolk Southern Railway Company, which will pay $110,000 to settle an EEOC lawsuit claiming it violated federal law by medically disqualifying a track maintenance worker because of degenerative disc disease, a spine condition, without doing an individualized assessment of whether he could perform the essential functions of his job.
After receiving treatment for his condition and being cleared to return to work by his physician, Norfolk Southern’s medical director disqualified the employee from his job and terminated him without first determining whether his medical condition actually affected his ability to perform the job.