Chalk one up for man’s best friend and military veterans.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has settled a disability discrimination and retaliation lawsuit with a North American trucking company in what is a groundbreaking precedent for the use of service dogs and other emotional support animals on the job by persons with emotional disabilities.
As part of the settlement, CRST Expedited, Inc. and its parent company CRST International will pay $47,500 in back wages and provide anti-discrimination training to their employees. The settlement also includes a consent decree that “enjoins CRST from refusing to hire or provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants and employees with disabilities in the future, and from retaliating against any applicant or employee for seeking a reasonable accommodation.”
CRST International is 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.
The disability discrimination lawsuit against CRST pertained to potential driver, Leon Laferriere, a military veteran. The EEOC said that “CRST violated federal law when it failed to accommodate, refused to hire and then retaliated against a truck driver applicant, a Navy veteran, because he used a service dog to assist with his disabilities.”
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 asserted that CRST 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).
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 EEOC.
Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District, said in a press release: “The use of a trained service dog can be a reasonable accommodation. Employers must make exceptions to company policies where such an exception would allow the company to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual with a disability.”
Jean Kamp, associate regional attorney for the Chicago District, added: “CRST’s refusal to hire and accommodate this applicant is an example of the hardships that returning veterans with disabilities can face as they seek to reintegrate into civilian life. Those challenges are hard enough without an employer denying a veteran a job simply because he needs a service dog. Employers must not retaliate against employees or applicants for requesting accommodations.”
Employers should look at the agreement reached between the EEOC and CRST to be sure that they have policies in place to ensure that are providing fair treatment with employees and job candidates who qualify under the ADA.