By law, employers can’t discriminate against workers with disabilities. That includes learning disabilities. This May, two companies in Connecticut got the message—in the form of a lawsuit.
Kevin Lebowitz has worked as a carpenter for 15 years. He has a clean safety record. And he has many safety certifications.
Lebowitz also has dyslexia, which makes it very difficult for him to read printed text.
In 2012, Lebowitz reported for a new construction job, he says. McPhee Electric, Ltd. was the general contractor for the job. Bond Bros., Inc. was the subcontractor. When Lebowitz arrived, he was given a packet of safety information.
A safety officer from McPhee asked Lebowitz to review and sign the packet. Lebowitz told the officer he had dyslexia. He said he would need help reviewing the packet. And he offered to take it home to review.
That’s when a Bond Bros. superintendent told Lebowitz that he couldn’t be hired. Why? He was told he’d be a safety hazard since he couldn’t read the safety packet. (Neither company offered him any reading .)
Soon after, Lebowitz filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination. That includes the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The EEOC looked into Lebowitz’s claim. And it decided he had been discriminated against. So the agency filed a lawsuit against the companies in federal court.
“By all accounts, Mr. Leibowitz is a skilled carpenter,” says Catherine Wan, the EEOC attorney on the case. “Dyslexia had no impact on his ability to work safely. So this was really a misconception about people with disabilities.”
Lebowitz is not alone in his experience. “Complaints of workplace discrimination based on learning disabilities like dyslexia are not uncommon,” adds Justine S. Lisser, an EEOC spokesperson.
According to EEOC records, there were 408 of these complaints in 2014. Lisser points to cases against companies that demoted or fired employees because of their dyslexia.
In Lebowitz’s case, the result was a settlement. This May, the two companies agreed to pay him $120,000 in damages. They also promised to make changes at the companies.
One major change: Providing training about discrimination and reasonable accommodations for new and current employees. The companies also agreed to post related information at worksites. And they’ll change their employee handbooks.
The two companies declined to comment to Understood about the settlement.
“We are pleased that McPhee and Bond worked with us to resolve this lawsuit,” says Wan. “Trainings, notices and other measures—we think these will be effective in raising awareness. Disability discrimination violates the law.”
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About the author
Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.