Company Fired Certified Rigger Due to Epilepsy, Federal Agency Charged
SEATTLE, WA (STL.News) A Bellingham, Wash.-based company formerly doing business as Diamond B Constructors, Inc. and its successor, Harris Companies, will pay $100,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s suit, Angela Watson was dispatched by her union to work on a project for Diamond B in Anacortes, Wash. Watson is a pipefitter by trade and holds an additional certification as a rigger. When Watson disclosed to her direct supervisor that she has epilepsy, he and other Diamond B supervisors unilaterally concluded that she could not safely work at heights and terminated her employment – even though Watson’s epilepsy was well controlled by medication and that she had not requested any accommodation and had no medical restrictions.
Terminating an employee based on her disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law also requires employers to make a case-by-case assessment of a worker’s actual ability to perform the job functions when potential safety concerns are raised. After first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process, the EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington (EEOC v. BLI Northwest, Inc., f/k/a Diamond B Constructors, Inc. and Harris Pacific Northwest, LLC f/k/a Harris Acquisition IV, LLC, Case No. 2:18-CV-00926-RAJ).
The three-year consent decree settling the lawsuit provides $100,000 in compensatory damages to Watson. The decree also requires Diamond B and Harris Companies to train their personnel on compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws, with an emphasis on the ADA. The companies will also implement and disseminate an ADA policy and post a notice describing obligations under the consent decree and employees’ ADA rights.
“This employer concluded that Ms. Watson presented a significant safety risk without assessing the actual likelihood of her having a seizure,” EEOC Senior Trial Attorney May Che said. “Depriving a person of employment opportunities because of assumptions about conditions such as epilepsy strikes at the heart of the ADA, and the EEOC will defend the rights of such persons in the workplace.”
EEOC Seattle Field Director Nancy Sienko said, “Epilepsy reportedly affects 2.2 million Americans and affects each person differently. It is critical that employers not base job decisions on stereotypes, but instead carefully consider each individual’s abilities.”
According to www.dbnw.com, Bellingham, Wash.-based Diamond B Constructors provided commercial and industrial construction services in Washington, Oregon, Montana, and California and employed about 250 people year-round. The company was acquired in January 2018 by the St. Paul, Minn., corporation Harris Companies, one of the largest mechanical contractors in the United States, with over 1,000 employees in nine locations throughout the country, according to www.hmcc.com.