A Florida jury recently ruled in favor of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a case concerning the extent to which employers can rely on customer feedback of employees with disabilities in making employment decisions.
“It is unfortunate that disability discrimination in the workplace persists,” EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said in a news release dated October 23. “As we have shown, the EEOC will take those cases to trial, if necessary, to vindicate the rights of the victims.”
In June 2010, Florida Commercial Security Services hired Alberto Tarud-Saieh, for a position driving around a community association in a vehicle. According to the lawsuit, Tarud-Saieh, who lost his arm in a car accident, did not wear his prosthetic arm when he showed up to work the first day.
The president of the community association called the FCSS to complain, telling it that, “The company is a joke. You sent me a one-armed security guard.”
In response, the FCSS moved Tarud-Saieh from the position. Upon learning that Tarud-Saieh had filed a complaint with the EEOC, FCSS fired Tarud-Saieh, rather than transferring him to a different position. According to the lawsuit, FCSS’ agency manager told the EEOC that there were other positions available at the company, but that he fired Tarud-Saieh because he “was an idiot and dumb.”
In February 2013, the EEOC sued FCSS in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The EEOC argued the FCSS’s decision to remove Tarud-Saieh from the position was illegal because the use of his prosthetic arm was not necessary for him to perform the “essential functions” of the position.
Moreover, the EEOC argued that FCSS’s decision to later fire Tarud-Saieh after learning that he filed his complaint constituted unlawful retaliation, in violation of the ADA.
In ruling in the EEOC’s favor, the jury awarded Tarud-Saieh $35,922 in monetary damages. The EEOC will also seek injunctive relief, forcing FCSS to implement anti-discrimination policies and provide training to its employees.
“I worked with Mr. Tarud-Saieh for over a year and a half and personally saw how the discrimination affected him,” said Kristen Foslid, an attorney with EEOC’s Miami District Office, in a news release. “He was vindicated when the jury agreed with him that he could perform the job he is licensed to do.
“He hopes that other employers will get the message that they cannot rely on stereotypes and assumptions, and must treat people based on their actual abilities.”