Thursday, August 23, 2007

Qwest to pay $100,000 in settlement of charge of disability discrimination

Case number 45698, closed 5-21-07

Charging Party
Diane Wehunt
Ham Lake, MN

Qwest Inc.
405 2nd Av. S
Minneapolis, MN 55401

What the charging party alleged:

A female with disabilities, Wehunt was restricted by her doctor to working day shifts only, with no overtime. Despite her doctor's restrictions, which required a start time of between 7 and 8 AM, she was assigned by her employer to work an 11 AM to 8:30 PM shift. When her employer requested additional information from her doctor, the doctor complied and requested that she be assigned a constant day shift schedule. The employer informed her that it could not accommodate her medical restrictions due to seniority reasons, and stated that it would attempt within 80 days to find her another position in the organization that could accommodate her schedule. She subsequently applied for two positions that could have accommodated her schedule, but was not hired for either because there were other better qualified applicants, her employer claimed. Wehunt alleged that Qwest had failed to reasonably accommodate her disabilities.

What the Department's investigation found:

In answering the charge, the respondent argued that the charging party was not a "qualified individual with a disability," and therefore no accommodation was required, because the charging party could not perform the essential functions of her position, which included working varying shifts and overtime. It also maintained that it could not have continued Wehunt's employment beyond its 80-day job search period without violating collective bargaining agreements.

The department concluded that varying shifts and overtime were not essential functions of her position. The respondent was currently accommodating another employee with the same job title and similar disability-related restrictions, the department noted, and could have reasonably accommodated Wehunt's medical restrictions. It was not a reasonable accommodation to offer her reassignment to another position, the department concluded, because she was made to apply and compete for those positions -- requiring an employee to compete for a position is not an accommodation under the law. The respondent had correctly argued that the ADA does not require an employer to violate collection bargaining agreements, the department agreed. But the department concluded that the terms of the bargaining agreement in question would have permitted Qwest to accommodate Wehunt and allowed her to remain in the job.

Terms of settlement:

In a negotiated settlement, Qwest agreed to pay Wehunt $100,000. It also agreed to reinstate her to her position, full time on the day shift, contingent upon successful completion of a skills test and a standard drug test.

This settlement agreement does not constitute an admission of any liability, an admission of a violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act or any other law, or an admission of wrongdoing by the respondent.

The Department of Human Rights publishes settlement information about selected cases as part of its mandate under the Human Rights Act to "educate to eliminate" discrimination.

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Minnesota Department of Human Rights
190 E. 5th Street, Suite 700
St. Paul, MN 55101
1-800-657-3704 | 651-296-5663 | TTY: 651-296-1283
Contact the Department of Human Rights

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