Hiland Dairy to pay $140K to Oklahoma man following breach of ADA

Published: Jan. 8, 2023 at 11:31 AM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Hiland Dairy will pay $140,000 to an Oklahoma man after they withdrew a job offer because he was “legally blind” which is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission says on Friday, Jan. 6, that Hiland Dairy - a Springfield, Mo.,-based dairy distributor and producer - will pay $140,000 to resolve a disability discrimination lawsuit.

A lawsuit filed by the EEOC indicates that Hiland refused to hire a man to work at its Norman, Okla., plant due to his vision impairment. The company initially offered the man a dairy plant worker position with the knowledge that he had a disability, however, withdrew the offer after a standard pre-employment medical exam.

Records note that the doctor responsible claimed the man was a “safety concern” as he was “legally blind” even though the physician never personally met or examined the applicant and based his opinion completely on a simple vision test. Neither the company nor the doctor considered either any assistive devices or other reasonable accommodations that could have mitigated potential concerns.

“The ADA requires employers to evaluate workers with disabilities based on their actual ability to perform a job, with or without reasonable accommodation, and not on irrational fears or stereotypes,” said Andrea G. Baran, the EEOC’s regional attorney in St. Louis. “Labels like ‘legally blind’ are irrelevant to an individual’s ability to work.”

The EEOC alleged that such conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination due to disability. The lawsuit, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Hiland Dairy Foods Company, LLC was filed in May 2021 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma after an attempt to reach a pre-litigation settlement through a conciliation process.

“Individuals with vision impairments successfully perform a wide variety of jobs throughout our economy every day,” said David Davis, acting director of the EEOC’s St. Louis District office.  “Employers cannot neglect their obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to those workers based on unsubstantiated ‘safety concerns’.”

The Commission indicated that the 5-year consent decree requires Hiland Dairy to pay $140,000 in damages to the applicant and adopt policies, enact procedures and provide training to ensure future compliance with the ADA. The decree also requires the company to notify employees of their right to a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and periodically report to the EEOC.