Volvo Under Fire from EEOC

October 6, 2017

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (E.E.O.C.) finished off its fiscal year by filing a flurry of lawsuits at the end of September. According to Reuters Legal, more than 90 were filed in the past month, a number that surpassed the number in all of 2016. (EEOC Monitor: Fiscal year ends with focus on disability bias, October 3, 2017)

Among the most notable cases filed were two that relate to the nation’s troubling opioid epidemic. Heroin and prescription painkillers like OxyContin are major drivers of a significant rise in fatal drug overdoses, which totaled 64,000 in 2016. (America’s 8-Step Program for Opioid Addiction, September 30, 2017)

In the midst of a deadly epidemic, improved access to effective drug treatment is an imperative, something increasingly recognized by politicians and policy makers along the political spectrum. Under medical supervision, individuals with severe addictions show promising levels of recovery when prescribed methadone or suboxone. Not only are overdose rates diminished, many are able to lead full lives and contribute in the workplace.

Yet, treatment remains out of reach for many due to lack of funding and the stigma surrounding addiction.  And, sometimes, being in treatment can work against you. For example, if E.E.O.C. allegations in a complaint against Volvo filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland on September 28 are true, acknowledging that you are in treatment can cost you a job, something the Commission says violates the Americans with Disability Act.

The complaint asserts that, in early 2015, Michael Files received a job offer from Volvo at a Maryland plant. However, when he disclosed he was in recovery, he had his job offer rescinded.  Files told a nurse employed by the car manufacturer that he was taking suboxone, a medication often prescribed to those trying to break free of their dependence on illicit opioids. Instead of being lauded for years of heroin-free recovery, he was told he no longer had a job at Volvo.

Additionally, the E.E.O.C. recently filed suit against Norfolk Southern Corporation and Norfolk Southern Railway Company in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.  Several people previously reported to the E.E.O.C. that the companies had long excluded from employment consideration individuals prescribed suboxone or methadone, if they had taken either in the past twelve months. The policy was a complete bar on employment, regardless of an applicant’s ability to complete essential job duties.

It will be interesting to see how these two lawsuits play out and what impact they have on whether people feel they can be honest to future and present employers about the positive steps they are taking to deal with addiction issues.

The complaint against Volvo can be accessed via Westlaw through our dockets at: 1:17-CV-02889

The complaint against Norfolk Southern is available at: 2:17-CV-01251

Image source: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

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