The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is pursuing a North American trucking company in what could be a groundbreaking case on the use of service dogs and other emotional support animals on the job by persons with emotional disabilities.
CRST Expedited Inc. is part of CRST International, one of the nation’s largest transportation companies providing services to customers all over North America. CRST has more than 4,500 trucks and a large roster of drivers. One of those potential drivers was Leon Laferriere, a military veteran.
According to an EEOC press release announcing a disability discrimination lawsuit against CRST, Laferriere applied for a truck driver position with CRST and signed up for a driver’s certification course. After being admitted to the truck driver training program, Laferriere disclosed his disabilities and the use of a trained service dog to help control anxiety caused by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Laferriere successfully completed the training program, but was not allowed to proceed through the hiring process because of CRST’s “no pet” policy.
The lawsuit charges that CRST has discriminated against Laferriere because of his disability and that this violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as amended by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). The IRS has asked the court to order CRST to hire Laferriere and to pay him appropriate back pay and front pay, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. The lawsuit also seeks a permanent injunction enjoining CRST from failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for disability, failing to hire an applicant due to a disability, retaliating against an applicant for seeking a reasonable accommodation, and interfering with an applicant’s rights under the ADAAA.
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations (businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities, and doctor’s offices).
CRST alleges that it only learned late in the hiring process of Laferriere’s desire to have his service dog travel with him, and that the company does have a policy allowing dogs to travel on its trucks under certain circumstances. The EEOC claims that policy was created around the time CRST denied Laferriere’s request. CRST denied Laferriere a chance to qualify for use of his dog under the company policy, according to the IRS.
The agency is seeking backpay with interest for Laferriere, as well as other remedies, including damages for emotional pain and suffering and humiliation. The IRS also is asking for an injunction prohibiting CRST from, “discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities who use a service animal or emotional support animal.”
A trial date has been set for November this year.
The outcome of this case could be significant. There are ramifications as to how employers must address service animals in the context of the ADA.