Railroad Worker With Degenerative Disc Disease Was Discharged Because of His Disability, Federal Agency Charged

ATLANTA – Norfolk, Va.-based Norfolk Southern Railway Company, which operates in the eastern United States, will pay $110,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Norfolk Southern violated federal law by medically disqualifying a track maintenance worker because of degenerative disc disease, a spine condition, without doing an individualized assessment of whether he could perform the essential functions of his job. After receiving treatment for his condition and being cleared to return to work by his physician, Norfolk Southern’s medical director disqualified him from his job and terminated him without first determining whether his medical condition actually affected his ability to perform the job.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to perform an individualized assessment of an employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of his or her job rather than making assumptions about the employee’s ability. The agency filed suit (EEOC v. Norfolk Southern Railway Company, Case No. 1:13-cv-03126) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia after first attempting a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The consent decree settling the suit, in addition to the monetary relief, includes provisions for equal employment opportunity training, reporting and posting of anti-discrimination notices. In the suit and consent decree, Norfolk Southern denied any liability or wrongdoing.

“A primary purpose of the ADA is to prevent employers from making assumptions, whether fueled by prejudice or ignorance, about what employees with disabilities can do in the workplace. An individualized assessment is a crucial and necessary part in the effort to overcome these prejudices,” said Robert Dawkins, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Atlanta District Office.

Bernice Williams Kimbrough, director of the Atlanta District, noted, “The EEOC is committed to ensuring that employers understand that they must treat employees with disabilities as unique individuals and not presume they have certain limitations simply because they have a disability.”

The Atlanta District Office of the EEOC oversees Georgia and parts of South Carolina. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.