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PRESS RELEASE
7-27-11

EEOC Sues Product Fabricators Again For Disability Discrimination, Retaliation

Second Agency Suit Against Pine City Company for Disability Bias Since 2009; Employee Also Subjected to Retaliation for Speaking to Federal Investigator

MINNEAPOLIS – Product Fabricators, Inc., a Pine City, Minn., contract manufacturer, violated federal disability discrimination law by firing an employee because he inquired about taking time off for shoulder surgery and for participating in an interview with an investigator from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a prior case, the EEOC charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

According to the EEOC’s complaint (EEOC v. Product Fabricators, Inc., Case No. 11-cv-02071, (MJD/LIB)), Product Fabricators fired Adam Breaux after he inquired about taking time off to have shoulder surgery. Breaux previously had hurt his shoulder while working at Product Fabricators. Breaux continued working for several months before the pain became too severe and he sought to have surgery.

The EEOC also asserted that Product Fabricators’ motivation to fire Breaux was his participation as a witness in a prior, unrelated EEOC investigation. That charge eventually became an EEOC lawsuit against Product Fabricators in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Product Fabricators, Inc.; Civil Action No. 0:09-cv-02303 PAM/RLE), filed Aug. 31, 2009. The EEOC alleges that on Sept. 1, 2009 – the next day -- Product Fabricators confronted Breaux about his interview with an EEOC investigator and demanded he sign a statement about his interview and then fired him at the end of his shift.

Disability discrimination in employment violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Retaliation against an employee for cooperating in a discrimination investigation is also unlawful.

“The allegations in this complaint – and we intend to prove their truth in court – present a stark example of the chilling effect employer retaliation can have on the EEOC’s ability to root out discrimination in the workplace,” said John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District, which manages the EEOC’s Minnesota litigation efforts. “The EEOC has a congressionally mandated duty to investigate claims of employment discrimination, and it is plainly unlawful for employers to attempt to thwart the EEOC’s mission by firing employees in retaliation for cooperating with our investigations.”

John Rowe, district director for the EEOC’s Chicago District, said, “This case is an important reminder to all employers that they have a legal duty to consider accommodations sought by employees with disabilities. Refusing to even consider an employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation can be the quickest way for employers to run into trouble under the ADA.”

This is the second case since 2009 that the EEOC has brought against Product Fabricators for alleged violations of the ADA. The EEOC’s prior lawsuit, also filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, alleges that Product Fabricators unlawfully required employees to disclose confidential information about prescription drug use and unlawfully regarded a former employee as disabled due to his legal use of a prescription medication.

According to the company’s website (www.productfab.com), Product Fabricators is a contract manufacturer providing sheet metal fabrication and powder coating services for a diverse range of industries including medical, computing, industrial, telecommunications, energy and electronics.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.

The EEOC Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.