Tyson Foods to pay US$35,000, furnish other relief to settle disability discrimination lawsuit accusing company of refusing to hire former employee because he has epilepsy

Nevin Barich

Nevin Barich

Feb 24, 2012 – U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

ST. LOUIS , February 24, 2012 (press release) – Tyson Foods, Inc., one of the world’s largest processors of chicken, beef and pork, will pay $35,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that Tyson Foods refused to hire a former employee because he had epilepsy.

The EEOC lawsuit filed in May 2010 (EEOC v. Tyson Foods, Inc., Case No. 2:10-cv-04072-NKL) alleged that Tyson failed to hire Mark White for an open maintenance job in its Sedalia, Mo., plant because he had epilepsy and that Tyson’s refusal to hire White violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). White’s epilepsy had been controlled by medication for twelve years and he had been previously employed by Tyson on two occasions during this time period. However, Tyson instituted a new medical assessment procedure since last hiring White, and refused to hire him because he did not pass a medical evaluation required for applicants with epilepsy to determine whether he could safely perform the job. The doctor who performed the evaluation for Tyson did not examine White, but relied on outdated medical research in determining that he could not safely perform the job. At the same time, Tyson employed several other persons with epilepsy who had been grandfathered in.

Besides agreeing to pay White $35,000 as back pay and compensatory damages, Tyson agreed to institute a new assessment procedure for similar cases. Henceforth, an applicant who is disqualified from employment because of Tyson’s required medical assessment has the right to a second medical assessment at the applicant’s expense. Further, an independent and determinative third medical assessment will be made for any applicant not hired after the second assessment. The consent decree settling the suit, which must be approved by U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey, also provides for injunctive relief, including training to individuals involved in the assessment procedure, posting notification to employees, and compliance reporting to the EEOC.

“The potentially three-step medical assessment process agreed to by the parties is an extraordinary step in the right direction in terms of making sure disabled employees are given a full and fair opportunity to compete in the workplace,” said EEOC attorney Melvin Kennedy.

EEOC Regional Attorney Barbara Seely said, “While the terms of the consent decree only affect Tyson’s Sedalia facility, Tyson employs more than 117,000 people at more than 400 facilities and offices, and we are hopeful that the process we have agreed to works well enough that Tyson adopts it in other facilities.”

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

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