Company Fired Employee Because It Regarded Her as Disabled, Federal Agency Charged
MILWAUKEE - A federal magistrate judge in Milwaukee has entered a consent decree resolving a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Rexnord Industries, LLC, the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, Rexnord violated federal law by firing an assembler at its Stearns Division in Cudahy, Wis., because it regarded her as having a disability after two unrelated incidents which ended in ambulance trips to the hospital. The EEOC charged that Rexnord failed to properly analyze whether the assembler was a safety threat, which requires employers to use the best available medical information to evaluate the seriousness and likelihood of any risk.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit against Rexnord, EEOC v. Rexnord Industries, LLC, No. 2:11-cv-00777-NJ (E.D. Wis.), in August 2011 after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The decree entered today by U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Joseph prohibits future discrimination and provides that Rexnord will pay the former employee $25,000. Also, Rexnord will remove from her file any reference to the termination of her employment; train its human resources staff on the ADA and the ADA-required process to designate an employee as a direct threat to safety; and keep records of its direct-threat designations.
"The ADA protects employees from being fired simply for fear that a health condition may put workplace safety at risk," said John C. Hendrickson, regional attorney of the EEOC's Chicago District Office, which is responsible for EEOC litigation in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. "Firing an employee because of an actual or perceived disability violates the ADA, unless the employee poses a threat to safety that cannot be eliminated by an accommodation. We appreciate the careful reasoning in Judge Joseph's opinion denying Rexnord's motion for summary judgment and analyzing the requirements for proving a direct threat, and we appreciate Rexnord's willingness to provide relief for its former employee and its commitment to conduct the required analysis."
According to company information, Rexnord Industries, LLC, with facilities in Milwaukee and Cudahy, Wis., is part of Rexnord Corporation, a nearly $2 billion multi-industry manufacturer of mechanical and water management components, including Stearns brakes and Zurn water valves. Rexnord Corporation, owned primarily by Apollo Management, a New York-based private equity firm, employs approximately 7,400 people worldwide.
The EEOC's case was litigated by César J. del Peral and Dennis R. McBride from its Milwaukee Area Office, under the direction of Associate Regional Attorney Jean Kamp.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the Commission is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.