What a Pennsylvania company perceived to be an innocuous letter to employees may turn out to be anything but for that company now involved in a lawsuit with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in federal court in Connecticut based on allegations of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a result of that letter.
It was bad enough that Day & Zimmerman NPS , a century-old, family-owned provider of construction, engineering and staffing solutions, faced allegations of discrimination. But the company made it worse with a letter that has resulted in additional charges of unlawful retaliation being added to the case.
Some history. Gregory Marsh, a union electrician in Connecticut, was hired by Day & Zimmerman on a temporary basis to fulfill contract work during an outage in fall of 2012 at the Millstone Power Plant in Waterford, Connecticut. Marsh was eventually taken off the job after providing a doctor’s note that said he could not work around radiation. Marsh filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in 2012. As the EEOC investigation progressed into 2014, Day & Zimmerman, in June 2014, sent a letter to current and former electricians that had worked at Millstone during the outage to inform them that they might be contacted by the EEOC as witnesses. Included in the mailing were the 146 electricians who had been hired to work a Millstone during the fall 2012 shutdown.
The letter, referred to by the company as an act of “courtesy,” not only disclosed Marsh’s name and disabilities, but included the allegations, attorney contacts, rights with regard to speaking with the EEOC, and Day & Zimmerman’s anti-retaliation policies.
Marsh said that the letter prohibited his business referrals for new work because it revealed his name and the scope of his disabilities. The court viewed the letter as possible interference with the EEOC’s investigation. For its part, the EEOC, in a news release issued in September 2015, stated: “By publicizing Marsh’s charge in this manner, Day & Zimmermann NPS sought to interfere with the rights of workers and witnesses to communicate freely with the EEOC and to file charges of their own, EEOC charged.”
Fast forward to 2017 and the federal judge overseeing the case has ruled that Day & Zimmerman must face trial on charges that it interfered with the federal job protections of a disabled worker and potential witnesses in the EEOC investigation, including the charge of unlawful retaliation.
Should your company fall under EEOC investigation on charges of discrimination, it’s best to consult legal counsel for the most effective means of communicating with your staff in the midst of EEOC scrutiny to avoid making a bad situation worse.