What can Wisconsin Employers Learn From an Employer in Churubusco, Indiana (Pop. 1,800)?

Wisconsin employers should be aware of the root cause of a lawsuit that led to a settlement between the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and an Indiana employer. The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Like the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act, the ADA provides certain protections to employees with disabilities.

The EEOC started a lawsuit against an Indiana employer that resulted in a settlement that requires the employer to pay a job applicant thousands of dollars. The employer is located in Churubusco, Indiana, a town with a population of about 1,800 people.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the job applicant, an experienced and qualified machinist, applied and interviewed for a machinist position. Upon completion of the interview, the employer extended a job offer conditioned on the applicant passing a physical exam. The employer later withdrew the offer because the exam report disclosed a possible vision impairment related to a congenital eye condition. During the litigation process, the parties’ expert ophthalmologists agreed that the job applicant had normal vision.

The EEOC maintained that withdrawing a job offer based on unsubstantiated stereotypical beliefs about a medical condition violates the ADA, which prohibits discrimination based on disability or perceived disability. The EEOC filed suit in federal court to prove its point.

The EEOC and the employer reached a consent decree in March that requires the company to pay the applicant $35,000. The employer also agreed to require its human resources supervisors, managers and business unit managers to attend a training seminar on disability discrimination. The employer must also maintain a disability policy, post a notice informing employees that federal law prohibits discrimination, and report to the EEOC over a five-year period in instances when it withdraws a job offer based on the results of its post-offer physical exam.

“This settlement demonstrates that all employers, even those who are the main employer in a small town, must abide by federal anti-discrimination law,” said Kenneth L. Bird, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Indianapolis District Office.

What are the lessons for Wisconsin employers?

  • First, be aware that even employers in small communities are not beyond the reach of the EEOC.
  • Second, know that both federal and Wisconsin law set guidelines against discrimination based on disability, perceived disabilities and stereotypes of disabilities in the workplace.
  • Third, although post-offer physical exams are allowable in many instances, withdrawal of an offer because of a perceived disability may violate federal or Wisconsin law.
  • Fourth, it is important that those responsible for hiring decisions are fully trained and knowledgeable about federal and state laws that affect hiring practices in the workplace.

For more information, contact your Anderson O’Brien attorney for an in-depth analysis covering compliance with all employment-related laws.

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