Georgia Power Co. will pay $1,586,500 to 24 people to settle a discrimination lawsuit brought by a federal agency. The company had fired or refused to hire people for safety reasons based on their disabilities.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Georgia Power, claiming the electric utility disregarded opinions of treating physicians who said the people were fit to work.
The EEOC alleged Georgia Power didn’t evaluate each employee or applicant individually based on their disabilities or a medically related absence. The utility automatically disqualified employees and applicants under its Seizure and Drug and Alcohol Policies without performing individual assessments, according to the EEOC. That would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Georgia Power denied it violated the ADA.
Under the court-approved settlement, Georgia Power doesn’t admit violating the law. Rather, it reached the settlement to avoid further costly litigation.
However, the utility agrees to make several changes to its policies. Georgia Power has agreed it will:
- not discharge an employee or withdraw a conditional job offer based on that employee or applicant posing a direct threat to themselves or others because of seizures unless it has conducted an individual assessment of the person’s present ability to safely perform the essential functions of the job and will consider whether any requested reasonable accommodation would reduce or eliminate such a threat without an undue hardship
- not discharge an employee or withdraw a conditional job offer because of the use of a legal drug or medication prescribed to the person unless it has conducted an individual assessment
- revise its Drug and Alcohol Policy and its Seizure Policy to include provisions for individual assessments
- communicate with employees and applicants when assessments find them to be disqualified for employment so the person can provide information about their suitability for employment
- hold one training session annually for the next three years for employees involved in making employment decisions regarding Georgia Power’s equal employment opportunity obligations under the ADA
- redistribute its EEO policy to participants in the training
- submit reports to the EEOC every six months, and
- distribute copies of its revised Drug and Alcohol Policy and Seizure Policy to all employees.
“An employer cannot refuse to hire or return an employee with a disability to work without doing an individualized assessment of that person and determining whether the employee or applicant can perform the job with or without a reasonable accommodation,” said EEOC District Director Bernice Williams-Kimbrough.
“Employers have a legal duty to consider each individual’s ability to work on a case-by-case basis,” said Lynette Barnes, regional attorney for EEOC’s Atlanta District Office. “Employers must be careful when relying on a blanket application of a company policy that disqualifies disabled employees.”