Under both Texas law and federal law, employees have the right to work in workplaces free of discrimination on the basis of a number of things. They include race, sex, religion, pregnancy, nationality, disability and other classifications. Not only does the law stop employers from obvious and blatant forms of discrimination, such as firing or harassing workers, but also from more subtle discriminatory acts.
A major retail chain with a significant presence here in Texas recently settled claims of disability discrimination. The company, Dillard's, was accused by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of discrimination when it forced employees to disclose confidential medical information in order to take sick leave, as well as fired many employees who refused to disclose the information or took more leave than the company allowed.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers may not make medical or disability inquiries unless the inquiry is job-related and essential for a business need. This generally means that employers may only make such inquiries if the employer has evidence, such as poor performance, that the employee's condition is getting in the way of him or her doing the job.
Dillard's, however, reportedly had a longstanding nationwide policy of requiring employees to disclose personal and confidential medical information simply to be approved for leave. Some who would not disclose such information, many of them at the advice of their doctors, were fired in retaliation. Others who did go on leave were fired for taking leaves that were deemed to be too long.
This week, it was announced that Dillard's will pay $2 million to settle the claims and that the EEOC is expecting a very large class of workers to step forward to collect damages. Dillard's will also take numerous steps to ensure that it stops practicing routine disability discrimination in its stores.
Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Dillard's to Pay $2 Million to Settle Class Action Disability Settlement," Dec. 18, 2012
- Our San Antonio employment law firm has more information about this area of law posted on our Discrimination page.