Eeoc-Initiated Litigation: Case Law Developments in 2011 and Trends to Watch for in 2012 Part I
Maatman, Gerald L., Jr., Degroff, Christopher J., Labor Law Journal
I. Motions for Summary Judgment in EEOC Pattern or Practice Cases
I. EEOC v. CR. England, inc.1 The EEOC, on behalf of Walter Watson, a former employee of the employer, filed an action alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of the ADA. Watson was diagnosed with HIV in 1999, and began working as a truck driver for The employer in 2002. The EEOC claimed that the employer asked the truck driver trainees to sign acknowledgements that informed them that the trainer suffered from a communicable health condition, allegedly causing Watson stress and requiring him to take a leave of absence. The EEOC argued that the acknowledgement form the employer required trainees to sign violated § 102(b)(1) of the ADA, which "prohibits discrimination by limiting, segregating, or classifying a job applicant or employee in a way that adversely affected the opportunities or status of such employees because of the disability of such applicant or employee. "2 The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the District Court granted the employer's motion.
On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. It noted that although the employer required potential trainees to sign an acknowledgement form, it did not deny Watson the opportunity to become a trainer, demote him, or reassign him due to his HIV status. The Tenth Circuit also found no evidence that he was ever segregated from other employees or trainees. The court remarked that the mere act of disclosing Watson's HIV status in itself did not amount to an actionable claim. Accordingly, the court concluded that Watson did not suffer any adverse employment action.
The EEOC also claimed that Watson was terminated in his capacity as a trainer and as a driver, and only because he was HIVpositive.3 The court found that the reasons for the training demotion were legitimate and non-discriminatory. Among other things, the EEOC contended that because the employer had no company policy that would require the termination of a trainer, the reasons it offered were pretextual. The court, however, found no basis to conclude that an otherwise reasonable justification by an employer should be deemed pretextual merely because it was not directly reinforced by an official rule or policy. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the reasons offered by the employer for terminating Watson as a trainer were not a pretext for discrimination.
Likewise, the court found that the EEOC failed to offer any evidence to prove that the employer's reasons for terminating Watson as a driver were a pretext for discrimination.4 The EEOC further asserted that the employer violated § 102(d) of the ADA by disclosing medical information concerning Watson's HIV-positive status to potential trainees and other employees. The employer argued that the EEOCs claim failed because § 102(d) did not apply to voluntarily disclosed medical information that was not gleaned from a medical examination or inquiry, and as such, Watson did not suffer a sufficient cognizable injury to sustain a claim under § 102 (d.)5 The Tenth Circuit agreed with both arguments. The court determined that § 102(d) governs only medical examinations and inquiries in three distinct instances, including: (i) pre-employment, (ii) post-offer; and (iii) during the employment relationship. The court noted that on its face, § 102(d) does not apply to or protect information that is voluntarily disclosed by an employee unless it is elicited during an authorized employment-related medical examination or inquiry. The parties did not dispute that Watson voluntarily disclosed that he was HIV-positive, and neither party suggested that Watson's disclosure was the result of any sort of examination or inquiry.6 Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer.
2. EEOC v. The Picture People, Inc.7 The EEOC filed a disability discrimination action on behalf of Jessica Chrysler, a profoundly deaf employee hired as a performer at the employer's portrait studio, a position that involved photography, sales, lab work, front desk duties, and interacting with customers. …