Employer fired 3 brothers over their potentially expensive health condition, EEOC says
- Signature Industrial Services, LLC, terminated three laborers — all of whom were brothers — because of a blood disorder that runs in their family, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit filed Feb. 13.
- The brothers worked at an Exxon/Mobil refinery Texas and when a new employer took over their contract, it fired them because of their hemophilia A, fearing their insurance costs would rise, EEOC says. The company told them the firings were related to layoffs, but EEOC has alleged that no other employees were terminated that day and that the statement was pretext for disability discrimination.
- EEOC's suit seeks back pay, damages and reinstatement for the brothers.
Employers are trying to reduce healthcare costs in a number of ways, including focusing on medical outcomes, rather than the number of services provided. Some promote preventive services to help employees avoid costly, more invasive procedures later on, while others negotiate the best health plans possible directly with providers or offer employees high deductible health plans. Employers also have turned to wellness programs to try to control healthcare costs.
Terminating employees because they have an expensive-to-treat medical condition, however, can't be on that list. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects workers with disabilities from adverse employment actions based on their impairments.
The same holds true for workers who are associated with individuals with disabilities. EEOC, in its Questions and Answers About the Association Provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act, says that "an employer may not deny an employee health care coverage available to others because of the disability of someone with whom the employee has a relationship or association." This means, for example, that an employer cannot refuse to hire an applicant who has a spouse with a disability because it has determined that providing coverage for them would increase health insurance costs. It also would violate the ADA for the employer to offer the applicant a job, but refuse to offer her the same coverage it offers to other employees.