February 1st, 2012

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects Americans from experiencing disability discrimination at the hands of an employer. This means that neither an employee nor a job applicant may be treated unfavorably by an employer on the basis that he or she has a disability, a history of disability or has a relationship with another person who has a disability.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit issued a ruling on a disability discrimination lawsuit against a Minnesota-based company. The company was accused of violating the ADA by requiring its employees to report any use of legal prescription drugs and by firing an employee who reported taking prescribed drugs for back pain.

The Pine City, Minnesota, company was sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2009. The EEOC and the company agreed on a consent decree which would settle the suit with an award of $40,000 to the man who was wrongfully fired and also bar the company from continuing its prescription drug disclosure policy.

A consent decree is a voluntary agreement between both parties. It must be affirmed by a judge as a binding judgment to finalize it as a resolution to a lawsuit. In return, any criminal charges are withdrawn and civil litigation comes to an end. Typically, the defendant has already stopped the illegal conduct alleged by the plaintiff or has agreed to stop the conduct.

In this case, a U.S. district judge rejected the consent decree in November 2010 because it included a provision that would require the court to have jurisdiction over the agreement for two years. The point of this was to make sure that the company abided by the terms of the decree.

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed that judge’s decision, which will mean that the district court must reevaluate the consent decree. In its reversal of that judge’s decision to reject the consent decree, the appeals court noted that continuing jurisdiction is the norm for consent decrees. In fact, it is often an appealing factor of resolving litigation in that matter, as it would provide both parties confidence that the agreement will be followed.

An EEOC representative further stated in a press release that this type of consent decree resolution is important in cases where employers are accused of discrimination, because it allows the court to make sure that the employer consistently follows civil rights laws in the aftermath of the case.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Court of Appeals Vacates Lower Courts Rejection of EEOC Consent Decree Disability Bias Case,” Jan. 31, 2012.

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