- Norfolk Southern Corporation and Norfolk Southern Railway Company will pay $2.5 million to settle a disability bias lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that accused the railway of a wide range of unlawful behavior against employees and job applicants under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Thirty-seven workers will receive monetary relief (EEOC v. Norfolk Southern Corp. et al., No. 2:17-cv-01251 (W.D. Pa. July 22, 2020)).
- The railway's medical department "disqualified workers from employment based on a range of actual or perceived disabilities, or a history of such disabilities" that had been disclosed in pre-employment or return-to-work evaluations, EEOC said in a press release. The employer failed to consider how workers' conditions would affect their ability to perform their work safely, the commission alleged.
- "The agreement resolves a matter initiated by the EEOC well over a decade ago. We are confident no disability discrimination took place, but moving forward and focusing instead on our business and best-in-class employment practices is a better use of everyone's time and resources," a Norfolk Southern spokesperson said in a statement emailed to HR Dive.
The ADA is 30 years old, but as this case and others illustrate, the federal law remains relevant. The ADA is clear that employers generally need to accommodate workers and job applicants with disabilities. The law requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for employees and job applicants with disabilities unless the employer would suffer an undue hardship as a result.
Undue hardship means that, taking into account the employer's size, financial resources and business needs, the accommodation would be "too difficult or too expensive to provide," EEOC says in guidance.
But accommodations don't need to be expensive or elaborate, and they can take many forms. Something as simple or inexpensive as a chair for an employee with a back problem or a nearby container of orange juice for a worker with diabetes may be enough. The EEOC clearly takes the position that modifying a workplace policy because of an employee's disability can be a reasonable accommodation, it has explained. Another reasonable accommodation may involve additional leave time beyond what is otherwise provided.
Once an employee has requested an accommodation, experts recommend employers engage in an interactive process to identify possible solutions. Because the ADA does not require that accommodation requests be in writing or that specific language be used, experts say employers should develop a system that helps managers and supervisors recognize accommodation requests.
After the accommodation has been put into place, supervisors should follow up to make sure that it's working. If not, a new one should be pursued, David K. Fram, the director of ADA and EEO services for the National Employment Law Institute, has said.