“Say it ain’t so!  Not the Salvation Army!”

This was the reaction of a lot of blog readers in late 2016 when I reported that the EEOC had just sued a Salvation Army thrift store in Wasilla, Alaska (I think I can see it from my roof!), for allegedly refusing to hire an otherwise qualified young man for an entry-level job accepting and sorting donated clothing, furniture and household goods because he had an intellectual disability.  The EEOC said that he was rejected because of “stereotypes about his ability to interact with the public.”

Why was this reader reaction so prevalent?

Because – as I have noted repeatedly – the EEOC knows that this kind of lawsuit against a non-profit or health care provider is “low hanging fruit.”  As a regional director of the EEOC said some time ago (about an ADA suit against a medical facility), it is “ironic when a hospital, which is dedicated to caring for the health of its patients, ignores the medical concerns of an employee, refuses to even discuss providing a needed workplace modification, and instead fires him because of his disability.”

The EEOC loves to catch do-gooders (allegedly) doing bad.

The same is true about the Salvation Army, which just agreed to settle this case for $55,000. Not for nothing did the EEOC just trumpet that it settled with the “Global humanitarian organization” Salvation Army,” and note that “We are very pleased with the outcome of this lawsuit. The changes that will be implemented as part of this settlement will go a long way in reaffirming The Salvation Army’s mission.”

Gotcha!

Long Takeaway

“Fears, biases or stereotypes” against people with disabilities is at the core of many lawsuits filed by the EEOC under the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”).   One EEOC attorney said recently that “It’s not only bad business to forgo hiring a qualified employee simply because of fears, biases or stereotypes against people with disabilities, it’s also a violation of the law.”

Said another EEOC attorney a couple years ago: “People with disabilities have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Providing equal employment opportunities to all job applicants – including those with disabilities – is not just the law, it is good for our economy and our workplaces.”

As I have commented before, the ADA provides that an employer must engage in an “interactive process” with an otherwise qualified employee (or applicant) who is claiming a disability, towards the end that a reasonable accommodation is provided.  That is, it must engage in meaningful discussions as to the proposed accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual.  The EEOC, and the courts, have consistently held that an employer has an “affirmative duty” to engage in this interactive process with the applicant or employee.