Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas (BCBS), a Dallas health care company, will pay $75,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to EEOC’s lawsuit, Sheryl Meador, who is deaf, applied through an online process for an open claims examiner position. After submitting her resume, Meador was invited to complete a 35-minute assessment exam that included an audio portion. The audio portion was inaccessible to Meador, because it contained no captions or other visible accommodations for applicants with hearing impairments. Because of her disability, Meador was unable to complete the audio portion of the exam, and thus, she was unable to complete the application process.
According to the EEOC’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Civil Action No.3:17-CV-02626-D), Meador contacted BCBS and informed the company’s recruiting coordinator of her disability and requested a reasonable accommodation for the audio portion of the assessment exam. However, before Meador could obtain a reasonable accommodation, the company stopped communicating with her. Meador made repeated attempts to follow up with the company’s human resources staff to no avail. As a result, she was not able to complete the application process and was denied hire.
The EEOC charged in its suit that BCBS’s failure or refusal to hire Meador, a qualified individual with a disability, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees from discrimination based on their disabilities and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities. The EEOC brought its suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
“Like so many other people with or without disabilities, Ms. Meador just wanted the opportunity to work,” said EEOC Trial Attorney Heather Nodler. “She was well-qualified for this position, irrespective of the nature of her disability. Unfortunately, however, the application process became a needless roadblock to her employment.”
The EEOC was joined in this litigation by Lia Davis of Disability Rights Texas, a federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities in Texas that directly represented Meador.
A two-year consent decree, signed on March 18, 2019 by U.S. District Court Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater, calls for BCBS to provide monetary relief to Meador. The decree also specifies that BCBS will conduct annual training on the ADA and will inform applicants and employees with disabilities of their rights – including the right to receive reasonable accommodation during the application process. BCBS will also implement a policy for communication with applicants who are deaf or have hearing impairments to ensure they are able to apply for open positions without unlawful barriers.
EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Joel Clark said, “The non-monetary relief contained in the consent decree should help eliminate obstacles for other hearing-impaired applicants. We trust that the new policies and practices for hearing-impaired applicants will effect positive change for this health care services company. The EEOC wants to ensure that what Ms. Meador experienced does not happen again.”
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov .