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Updated December 7, 2018

Justice Department Sues St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, for Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities

(12/06/2018) The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit alleging that St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, has discriminated against persons with disabilities in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, alleges that St. Bernard Parish failed to provide reasonable accommodations to its zoning ordinance by repeatedly refusing to allow two proposed group homes for children with disabilities to operate. The two group homes had satisfied all of the relevant licensing requirements of the State of Louisiana.

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits municipalities from applying their zoning laws in a manner that discriminates against persons with disabilities,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to enforcing the Fair Housing Act zealously to ensure that such discrimination against people with disabilities does not continue to occur.”

“Nondiscriminatory housing is a fundamental right for all Americans, including those with disabilities, according to the Fair Housing Act,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Peter G. Strasser. “Our office, along with the Department’s Housing and Civil Enforcement section, will continue to protect the rights of all citizens within our district to attain housing.”

“It’s hard enough for individuals with disabilities to find adequate places to live without having the creation of housing that meets their needs intentionally blocked,” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD will continue to work with the Justice Department to take appropriate action anytime housing providers and others in a position to control access to housing violate the Fair Housing Act.”

This case arose when St. Bernard Parish denied reasonable accommodations to allow two group homes, which would have been licensed by the State of Louisiana, to operate in single-family neighborhoods of the Parish. The Parish’s zoning code prohibits group homes from operating in these neighborhoods. There are only 13 group homes operating throughout the State of Louisiana that serve children with disabilities in the same manner as the homes proposed in St. Bernard Parish. The two group home operators filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) after their requests for reasonable accommodations were denied.

The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting St. Bernard from applying its zoning code in a manner that discriminates against persons with disabilities. The lawsuit also seeks monetary damages to compensate victims, as well as payment of a civil penalty. A related case challenging St. Bernard’s conduct was filed by the operators of the two proposed group homes. That case, Angelicare et al. v. St. Bernard Parish, is pending before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex and familial status. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.justice.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Justice Department at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at fairhousing@usdoj.gov, or contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-66-9777 or through its website at https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp.

The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must still be proven in federal court.

Updated November 30, 2018

Civil Rights Division Statement on World AIDS Day 2018

(November 29, 2018) On World AIDS Day 2018, the Department of Justice reaffirms its commitment to ensuring that people living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) can enjoy lives free from stigma and discrimination. By enforcing civil rights laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and educating members of the public on their rights and responsibilities under the law, the Department seeks to ensure that the more than one million Americans with HIV and AIDS can live with dignity and respect. In recognizing World AIDS Day 2018, Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, stated:

“The Department of Justice is proud to play a leading role in safeguarding the civil rights of those living with HIV and AIDS. Discriminatory treatment of people with HIV and AIDS is contrary to the law and our nation’s ideals. On this day, the Civil Rights Division reaffirms its commitment to protecting the civil rights of all individuals.”

The Civil Rights Division’s enforcement efforts over the last year have helped ensure that people with HIV and AIDS are not turned away when seeking medical treatment. In December 2017, the Department entered into a settlement agreement with a physician’s office based on allegations that a prospective patient was turned away because she has HIV. The agreement required the practice to train its employees on their obligations under the ADA and to pay $35,000 in damages and civil penalties.

The Department has also focused on combatting the unfounded stereotypes and misinformation about HIV and AIDS that lead to unlawful discrimination. In March 2018, the Department reached a settlement agreement with a correctional facility in Louisiana based on its segregation of a detainee for approximately six months because he has HIV. The agreement ensures that the facility will no longer segregate individuals on the basis of their HIV status. In addition, it requires the adoption of nondiscrimination policies, designation of an ADA coordinator, training, and payment of $27,500 in damages to the complainant.

Further, the Department has continued its efforts to educate people living with HIV and AIDS, businesses, state and local governments, and public employers on rights and responsibilities under the ADA. In the past year, Department staff have met with organizations serving people living with HIV and AIDS in cities nationwide, providing outreach and critical information to affected populations. The Department also provides technical assistance and responds to questions from individuals and covered entities through our ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY).

On World AIDS Day 2018, we remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS. In their memory, we will continue the enforcement, education, and outreach efforts that are so vital to the many Americans across our country who are living with HIV and AIDS.

To learn more about the Department’s work, please visit www.ada.gov/hiv.

Otto Candies to Pay $165,000 to Resolve EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit

Marine Transportation Provider Fired Deckhand Because of His Recurrent Pancreatitis, Federal Agency Charged

NEW ORLEANS (August 23, 2018) - Otto Candies, LLC has agreed to pay a former employee $165,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today. Otto Candies, which is based in Des Allemands, La., provides marine transportation services in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Shawn McLamb had been working as a deckhand on one of Otto Candies' many vessels. The EEOC said that the company told McLamb that it was firing him because his recurrent pancreatitis - a condition that can cause infrequent and brief bouts of severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting - had rendered him unqualified for the job. The EEOC alleged that Otto Candies took this action even though the condition had not impeded McLamb's work over the past ten years and even though his doctor and the U.S. Coast Guard had both determined that the condition would not impede his work in the future.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which makes it unlawful for an employer to fire - or otherwise discriminate against - an employee because the employer knows, or assumes, that the employee has or had a disability.

The EEOC filed its suit (Civil Action No. 17-9584) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana last year. Under the two-year consent decree settling the suit, Otto Candies will pay McLamb $165,000 in monetary relief and provide a variety of other, non-monetary relief. For instance, the decree requires that the company train its employees on the requirements imposed by the ADA.

"This settlement is both strong and just," said Rudy Sustaita, regional attorney for the EEOC's Houston District Office. "Otto Candies has given us every indication that it intends to comply with the ADA in the future."

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.

Updated March 22, 2018

EEOC Sues Zachry Construction Corporation For Disability Discrimination

Contractor Used Medical Questionnaires and Exams to Weed Out Employees With Potential Medical Issues, Federal Agency Charges

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (2/21/18) - Zachry Construction Corporation, a San Antonio-based construction and industrial contractor, violated federal law when it fired several employees whose post-offer medical questionnaires and subsequent medical examinations revealed they had disabilities, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit. At the time of termination, all these employees were already performing their job duties in a satisfactory manner, the EEOC said.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, in June 2015, Reginald White applied for a Boilermaker I position at the Chevron refinery in Pascagoula, Miss. Around the time he was hired, Zachry required White to complete a medical questionnaire. On Aug. 25, a month after White began work, the company required White to undergo a fitness-for-duty examination. After a brief examination and review of White's medical information, the examining physician found White unable to perform his job duties, even though he had satisfactorily performed those duties for the past month. Zachry fired White the next day.

Similarly, Zachry terminated two other employees after it learned that they had disabilities, the EEOC said. On May 17, 2016, the company required Jasper Johnson to undergo a fitness-for-duty examination. During the examination, Zachry's physician learned of a past surgery and lingering neck pain. The company refused to allow Johnson to return to work and fired him.

Further, Zachry hired Parker Isaacson as a skilled laborer on July 6, 2015. Isaacson had undergone surgery on his right shoulder and had multiple right shoulder dislocations post-surgery. On April 4, 2016, the company required Isaacson to undergo a fitness-for-duty examination. During the examination, Zachry's physician learned of Isaacson's past surgery and multiple shoulder dislocations. The company refused to allow Isaacson to return to work and then terminated him.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees and job applicants from discrimination because of their disabilities. If an employee requires a reasonable accommodation, an employer must engage in a good-faith interactive process with the employee to determine if he or she can perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.

The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Zachry Construction Corporation, Case No. 1:18-cv-00058-HSO-JCG) on February 20, 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi after the EEOC's Birmingham District Office completed an investigation and first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief.

"If an employer has a concern about employee's ability to perform his or her job duties, it needs to conduct individualized assessments and not make decisions based on assumptions," said EEOC District Director Delner Franklin-Thomas.

EEOC Regional Attorney Marsha Rucker added, "Treating employees with disabilities fairly is not just common sense, it's federal law, and the EEOC is proud to enforce it."

According to the company's website, Zachry Construction Corporation specializes in large, technically unique projects around the world. Zachry maintains offices in Texas, North Carolina, Colorado and California.