Blue Cross pays $75K to settle challenge to audio job application
- Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BCBS) of Texas, has agreed to pay $75,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging it of disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- Sheryl Meador, who is deaf, applied online for a claims' examiner job with BCBS, EEOC said. She was not able to complete the application process because it included a 35-minute assessment exam with an audio portion that did not contain captions or provide other visible accommodations for hearing-impaired applicants. Meador contacted the company's recruiting coordinator and asked for a reasonable accommodation and repeatedly followed up with the company's human resources staff, but the company stopped communicating with her, EEOC said. "She was well-qualified for this position, irrespective of the nature of her disability. Unfortunately, however, the application process became a needless roadblock to her employment," EEOC Trial Attorney Heather Nodler said in a news release.
- BCBS also agreed to conduct annual ADA training, inform employees and job applicants of their rights — including the right to receive reasonable accommodation during the application process — and put into place a method for communicating with hearing-impaired job applicants.
The ADA protects employees from discrimination based on their disabilities and generally requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to enable employees and applicants to perform the essential functions of a given position.
In an informal discussion letter released late last year, an EEOC attorney advised that digital interviews don't necessarily violate the ADA. When requested, a company must provide a reasonable accommodation that will allow a job applicant to use the digital interview format or must provide another means for conducting the interview unless doing so creates an undue hardship for the employer, the discussion letter clarified.
If employers fail to do so, it appears likely that they'll face legal consequences. Plaintiffs filed at least 814 such lawsuits under Title III of the ADA in 2017, according to Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Employers that want to stave off potential legal liability in this area can provide online job applicants with a means to get help, such as providing a phone number to call. Online job application systems can also provide alternative methods to provide requested information such as e-mail, fax, telephone or mail, Beth Loy, principal consultant with the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) previously told HR Dive. Loy recommended, among other things, that employers enlist an expert to review the system for accessibility and that people with disabilities be a part of the testing process.