Company Fired Employee Due to Lung Issues, Federal Agency Charged
NEW ORLEANS — Mid South Extrusion, Inc., a flexible packaging company based in Monroe, La., has agreed to pay $70,000 in lost wages and damages and provide other significant relief to settle a disability lawsuit filed last year by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Mid South fired Jeffrey Wyant because he has a lung impairment. The suit alleged that in June 2015, Wyant began having breathing problems at work and saw several doctors, as a result of which he learned that he had health issues, including reduced breathing capacity in his lungs. In response, Mid South became concerned with Wyant’s breathing issues and decided that working in a plastics manufacturing facility would be harmful to his health. Immediately after a coughing incident he had at work in September 2015, Mid South fired him. The EEOC determined that Wyant was terminated on the basis of disability, about one year after being hired.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No. 3:17-cv-01229-TAD-KLH) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Mid South denied liability. The parties agreed to resolve the dispute by entering into a two-year consent decree.
On March 22, 2019, U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty signed and entered the decree. In addition to the monetary award for Wyant, the decree provides for significant non-monetary relief, including an injunction prohibiting any future discrimination. Mid South is also bound under the decree to develop an effective policy to protect applicants and/or employees from any form of disability discrimination in the future, including making an intensive individualized assessment in consultation with the employee, and, if need be, his or her treating physicians, to determine if the employee can perform the essential functions of the job and to determine if he or she is a safety threat.
Additionally, the decree requires that Mid South provide training about its policies and the ADA’s requirements. Mid South will report to the EEOC on its compliance with the decree and post an “EEO Is the Law” poster for the employees and/or applicants to be aware of their rights.
“The law requires companies to make an individualized assessment of an employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of his job, and not to rely on assumptions,” said Rudy Sustaita, regional attorney for EEOC’s New Orleans and Houston offices. “The EEOC is here to fight for the rights of people like Mr. Wyant whose rights against disability discrimination are violated.”
Michelle Butler, senior trial attorney for the New Orleans Field Office, added, “This settlement is the best avenue to address the concerns raised by the EEOC and Jeffrey Wyant’s complaints.”
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.