A Lubbock auto dealer was accused of disability discrimination and recently settled the claim for $250,000. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) sued Benny Boyd Chevrolet-Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep, Ltd., d/b/a Benny Boyd Lubbock, and Boyd-Lamesa Management, L.C., for discriminating against the dealership manager with multiple sclerosis. Click here for more information.
The manager was hired before his diagnosis with promises of future ownership in the dealership. He managed the dealership successfully for six months before he revealed his disability, according to the EEOC. He was then faced with comments like, “What’s wrong with you? Are you a cripple?” He was also denied the partnership and quit, claiming he was forced to resign.
I am always concerned when my Texas Panhandle business clients don’t believe that employment lawsuits like this can happen to them. I’m sure this Lubbock dealer felt the same way. But there were there were approximately 10,000 charges of discrimination filed in Texas with the EEOC and the Civil Rights division of the Texas Workforce Commission during fiscal year 2014. Around 27% of those charges claimed disability discrimination. It can and does happen to employers here, and some of the cases, like the one in Lubbock, can be very costly.
What can you do to prevent or at least prevail in such suits?
- Focus on job-related qualifications in hiring and job performance in discipline and firing. Don’t focus on a person’s disabilities in your questions or in your decisions.
- Educate yourself and your supervisory staff on employment law, including but not limited to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Prevent any kind of hostile work environment, including slurs, jokes, offensive cartoons or emails, gossip or other cruelty directed towards a disabled employee.
- Don’t play doctor. The ADA requires “reasonable accommodation” of disabilities. You need the input of the employee’s medical professionals before you make a determination of what the employee can and can’t do.
- Have a written employee manual that is introduced during orientation and followed consistently throughout employment. However, know that with disabilities, you sometimes have to make exceptions for that person and not hold them to the same standards as everyone else if some of the functions they are performing are not absolutely essential to the job.
- Document, document, document every action taken during employment and have non-discriminatory reasons for those actions.
- Don’t terminate anyone, but particularly a disabled employee, without good, fair and documented reasons.
- Put your employment lawyer on speed dial and ask before you act with regards to a disabled employee.