Company Fired Equipment Operator Because of His Clubfoot, Federal Agency Charged
DALLAS - Luminant Mining Company LLC, a Dallas, Texas coal mining company, will pay $150,000 to a former equipment operator to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
The EEOC charged in its lawsuit that the coal mine fired equipment operator James Tarver nine days after receiving information from a doctor indicating that he was disabled, and recommending an accommodation that the company could have easily granted. Tarver was born with a clubfoot (congenital talipes equinovarus) and wears a foot brace. He requested that he not be required to stand on concrete more than one hour per day, as an accommodation to his disability. Tarver was hired to operate heavy equipment. After initially working in that capacity, Tarver's supervisor started making Tarver perform manual labor in the coal barn. This required standing on concrete all day long sweeping coal dust and washing the concrete floor.
Discriminating against an individual because of his or her disability violates The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, as amended. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Luminant Mining Co. LLC., Civil Action No. W-12-CV-314) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Waco Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.
The consent decree settling the suit was signed by U.S. District Court Judge Walter S. Smith, Jr. on May 30, 2013. In it, Luminant Mining Company agreed to pay $150,000 to James Tarver and will train all employees on the requirements and prohibitions of the ADA. The company will also
develop policies to provide for reasonable accommodation and to prohibit discrimination and
"This is what can happen when a company flatly refuses to maintain and enforce an ADA reasonable accommodation policy," said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney William C. Backhaus. "Every employer, large and small, needs to recognize the importance of engaging in the interactive process once aware that an employee needs an accommodation. Mr. Tarver's supervisor forced him work while standing all day on concrete when he could have easily allowed Tarver to operate heavy equipment, as he was hired to do. Management then compounded the ADA violation with a termination."
"There are many discriminatory assumptions about disabilities in today's workplaces," said Robert Canino, Regional Attorney for the EEOC's Dallas Office. "When an employer responds to a requested accommodation by simply challenging the employee's general fitness and ability to do a job for which he had already been deemed qualified, a red flag should go up."
"Allowing disability stereotypes to factor into employment decisions is not an effective way to promote a safe and healthy workplace, and can lead to a violation of the law, as it did here," added Janet Elizondo, District Director of the Dallas Office of the EEOC.
Addressing emerging and developing issues under the ADA (including issues such as reasonable accommodation, undue hardship and direct threat), is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission in the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.
Mr. Tarver was also represented by Mark Oberti of the Houston, Texas firm Oberti Sullivan LLP.