EEOC ADA Suit Against Magnolia Health Highlights US Employer’s Growing Disability Discrimination Risks

August 18, 2015

A new disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against  Visalia, California -based Magnolia Health Corporation and its affiliates (Magnolia) highlights the need for healthcare industry and other U.S. employers adequacy and defensibility of their practices for offering accommodation to, hiring, screening and other employment practices with respect to persons with actual or perceived disabilities in light of the EEOC’s prioritization of disability discrimination enforcement under the Obama Administration.

In keeping with President Obama’s announced agenda, the EEOC has made disability and other discrimination regulations and enforcement a major priority.  The EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan includes eliminating class-based and other recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate against people with disabilities and other classes protected under federal employment discrimination laws among its top six national priorities.  In furtherance of these priorities, the EEOC and other federal agencies both have expanded regulatory protections for persons with disabilities and significantly stepped up investigation and enforcement of disability discrimination claims against businesses accused or suspected of discriminating against disabled or other persons protected under federal discrimination laws. See e.g., Discrimination Rules Create Risks For Employer Reliance On Injunction Of FMLA Rule On Same-Sex Partners’ Marital Status; EEOC Suit Against Pipe Fitting Business Shows Disability Discrimination Risks For Employers Hiring Vets With PTSD; EEOC Charges Employer Violated ADA By Terminating Employment At FMLA Leave End; Texas Employers Top Target For EEOC Charges; Wal-Mart Settlement Shows ADA Risks When Considering Employee Return To Work Accommodation Requests & Inquiries; Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Workers.

In keeping with this aggressive enforcement agenda, the EEOC’s suit filed August 8, 2015 against Magnolia reflects this enforcement emphasis.  In the suit, the EEOC asks the Federal District Court to award backpay, compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the class, as well as impose injunctive relief to prevent and address alleged “systemic” practices of disability discrimination in violation of the ADA by Magnolia.

Specifically, the EEOC lawsuit charges Magnolia with engaging since 2012 in systematic discrimination based on disability, a record of disability and perceived disability in violation of the ADA by refusing to hire and denying accommodations with persons disabilities, and ultimately firing individuals that Magnolia regarded as disabled, had a record of a disability or had an actual disability.  The EEOC says Magnolia’s prohibited discriminatory practices included only offering positions to certain applicants under the condition that the applicants pass a medical examination, as well as discharging or revoking job offers when it learned of or received records of prior medical conditions or current medical restrictions.

When announcing the suit, the EEOC made clear it intends the lawsuit to send a message to all U.S. employers.  “Requiring individuals to be free from any need for accommodation is a trend that the EEOC is seeing in our region. Disability discrimination remains a persistent problem that needs more attention by employers,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for EEOC’s Los Angeles District.

Meanwhile, Director for EEOC’s Fresno Local Office Melissa Barrios warned, “Employers must try to accommodate individuals with disabilities by exploring effective ways to allow them to work provided there is no undue hardship.”  Ms. Barrios added, “Employment decisions, such as denying hire or firing, that are made without engaging in that critical interactive process run afoul of the law.”

With the EEOC continuing to emphasize ADA enforcement, U.S. employers should exercise care to ensure that their employment screening, hiring, accommodation and other duties both are properly designed and administered for defensibility under the ADA.   Healthcare or other employers should not presume that the EEOC or the courts automatically to accept as obvious or without question that the nature of their business or a particular position disqualifies an individual or class of individuals with a physical or mental disability, past history of injury or illness or other actual or perceived physical or mental limitation automatically for employment in that position.  Rather, employers making hiring or other employment decisions should be prepared to prove that their organization complies with the ADA in word and in deed by both adopting policies of compliance and ensuring that those policies are appropriately administered in a well-documented fashion so that the documentation.  Employers that decide not to hire an individual with an actual or perceived disability for safety or other reasons should be prepared in the event of a disability discrimination challenge to show that hiring or other employment decisions with respect to individuals with actual, perceived or records of disabilities were made without impermissible disability discrimination. An employer determining that an individual with an actual, perceived or record of disability should be prepared to show that this determination was made either without regard to the individual’s disability or that the individual does not qualify even with reasonable accommodation, that accommodation would be unreasonably costly, or accommodation could not eliminate the safety or other proven barriers to qualification of the individual for the position.  Businesses and business leaders concerned with managing these and other disability discrimination risks should keep in mind that evidentiary rules make it important that businesses ensure that in addition to maintaining appropriate written policies, they also conduct their employment activities appropriately to minimize the creation of evidence that could create or support discrimination claims as well as documentation to support the employer’s planned defenses.

For Legal or Consulting Advice, Legal Representation, Training Or More Information

If you need help responding to these new or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, help updating or defending your workforce or employee benefit policies or practices, or other related assistance, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Recognized as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law extensively involved in health and other employee benefit and human resources policy and program design and administration representation and advocacy throughout her career, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, author, pubic speaker, management policy advocate and industry thought leader with more than 27 years’ experience practicing at the forefront of employee benefits and human resources law.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group,  an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms.Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on health and other employee benefit, human resources and insurance matters and policy.

Ms. Stamer helps management manage. Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 27 plus year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance.  She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.  Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.  Common engagements include internal and external workforce hiring, management, training, performance management, compliance and administration, discipline and termination, and other aspects of workforce management including employment and outsourced services contracting and enforcement, sentencing guidelines and other compliance plan, policy and program development, administration, and defense, performance management, wage and hour and other compensation and benefits, reengineering and other change management, internal controls, compliance and risk management, communications and training, worker classification, tax and payroll, investigations, crisis preparedness and response, government relations, safety, government contracting and audits, litigation and other enforcement, and other concerns.

Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements. She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, ex-patriate and medical tourism, onsite medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities.  As a key element of this work, Ms. Stamer works closely with employer and other plan sponsors, insurance and financial services companies, plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors and others to design, administer and defend effective legally defensible employee benefits and compensation practices, programs, products and technology. She also continuously helps employers, insurers, administrative and other service providers, their officers, directors and others to manage fiduciary and other risks of sponsorship or involvement with these and other benefit and compensation arrangements and to defend and mitigate liability and other risks from benefit and liability claims including fiduciary, benefit and other claims, audits, and litigation brought by the Labor Department, IRS, HHS, participants and beneficiaries, service providers, and others.  She also assists debtors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees and others assess, manage and resolve labor and employment, employee benefits and insurance, payroll and other compensation related concerns arising from reductions in force or other terminations, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and other business transactions including extensive experience with multiple, high-profile large scale bankruptcies resulting in ERISA, tax, corporate and securities and other litigation or enforcement actions.

Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the Affordable Care Act and other health care, pension, social security, workforce, insurance and other policies critical to the workforce, benefits, and compensation practices and other key aspects of a broad range of businesses and their operations.  She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally.  A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas, Ms. Stamer annually leads the Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) HHS Office of Civil Rights agency meeting and other JCEB agency meetings.  She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to many business, professional and civic organizations.

Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA),, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA,, Employee Benefit News, and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of,, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.  She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see, or   the member of contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at including:

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©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.

Government Contractors To Face Hiring “Targets” for Vets & Disabled Under Impending Rules.

August 27, 2013

U.S. employers Federal government contractors and subcontractors will be required to set a hiring goal of having 7 percent of their workforces be people with disabilities and hiring goals for veterans, among other requirements when the Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) moves forward in upcoming weeks to finalize proposed changes to OFCCP regulations originally proposed on December 9.  Coupled with other enforcement and regulatory activism by the Administration, the plan announced today by Vice President Biden to move forward to finalize the new hiring target requirements will further heighten the need for government contractors as well as other U.S. businesses to guard against rising disability, veterans and other discrimination law exposures.  Employers that are government contractors should review the proposed regulations to determine its anticipated effect.  Employers concerned about the proposed tightening of hiring standards or other provisions of the proposed regulation also should consider commenting on the proposed regulation.  Meanwhile, all employers should heed the proposed regulation as yet another sign of the heightening of their exposures and responsibilities to disabled and other workers protected by federal discrimination laws under the Obama Administration.

Tighter Disability & Veterans Discrimination Rules For Government Contractors Coming

According to today’s announcement by Vice President Biden, the Administration plans to finalize a new Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) VEVRAA Rule and Rehabilitation Act Rule  in the Federal Register “soon” and will take effect 180 days after publication.   The action will finalize plans to adopt these rules that the Administration previously announced last December, reported on by Solutions Law Press, Inc. in DOL Plans To Tighten Employment Protections For Disabled Veterans & Other Disabled Employees Signals Need For Businesses To Tighten Defenses.

The new OFCCP’s rules will raise the affirmative action requirements for federal contractors and subcontractors to ensure equal employment opportunities for qualified workers with disabilities and veterans.

The proposed regulatory changes detail specific actions contractors must take in the areas of recruitment, training, record keeping and policy dissemination — similar to those that have long been required to promote workplace equality for women and minorities. In addition, the rule would clarify OFCCP’s expectations for contractors by providing specific guidance on how to comply with the law.

Specifically, the two new rules for the first time require federal government contractors to establish “hiring benchmarks” that the Administration intends to use to provide “real accountability” by measuring federal contractors’ progress toward achieving equal opportunity for people with disabilities and protected veterans.

  • The VEVRAA rule requires contractors to establish an annual hiring benchmark, either based on the national percentage of veterans in the workforce (currently 8%), or based on the best available data and factors unique to their establishments.
  • The Section 503 rule establishes an aspirational 7% utilization goal for the employment of individuals with disabilities.

Since taking office, the Obama Administration already has stepped up enforcement and oversight of federal laws prohibiting discrimination against veterans and individuals with disabilities.  The new requirements for benchmarking and reporting required by these new rules will make it easier for OFCCP to identify and target for audit or enforcement government contractors whose lower statistical hiring of veterans and other disabled workers.  Since government contractors and subcontractors can expect greater exposure to contract and compliance audits, enforcement and other risks to rise when the new rules take effect,  all government contractors and subcontractors are encouraged to evaluate their current and historical hiring practices and compliance in light of these new rules and begin preparing their strategy for both commenting on the anticipated rules, and minimizing potential risks and exposures within the scope of attorney client privilege.

Among other things, the proposed rule would:

  • Set a 7 percent hiring goal for the employment of individuals with disabilities, the highest level ever;
  • Require enhanced documentation and recordkeeping of requests and processing of requests for reasonable accommodation and other matters;
  • Provide for annual self-reviews of employers’ recruitment and outreach efforts; and
  • Add a new requirement for contractors to list job openings to increase their pools of qualified applicants.

These new rules would expand already significant nondiscrimination, affirmative action and recordkeeping requirements applicable to government contractors.  The expansion of these rules comes as the reach of federal employment discrimination laws has expanded to include many employers not historically covered by these requirements due to participation in Stimulus Bill or other government-funded programs which with broader than historically applicable affirmative action requirements.  Settlement of OFCCP Employment Discrimination Charge Reminder To ARRA, Other Government Contractors Of Heightened Enforcement Risks.

Meanwhile, enforcing federal discrimination laws is a high priority of the Obama Administration. The Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, Education, Justice, Housing & Urban Development, and others all have both increased enforcement, audits and public outreach, as well as have sought or are proposing tighter regulations protecting the disabled, veterans, and others.  See, e.g. New Obama Administration Affirmative Action Guidance Highlights Organization’s Need To Tighten Nondiscrimination Practices; HR Key Player In Managing Rising Risk of Disability, Other Discrimination Suits Under Obama Administration Justice Department;  Employer Assistance and Resource Network Offers Free Webinars For Employers During October In Honor of Disability Employment Awareness Month on Thursdays in October from 2:00 – 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Topics will include Employer Preparedness to Include Veterans with Disabilities; 4/19 Deadline For Comments On Proposed Rules For Selecting State Employment Service Delivery Systems Providers For Veterans; Justice Department Charges Employer, Pension Plan With Violating USERRA Reemployment Rights; Tighten Employment Disability Risk Management As Obama Declares 12/10 National Disability Employment Awareness Month; Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s; Obama’s Reaffirms Commitment Prosecute Disability Discrimination To Mark Omlstead Anniversary.

The expanding applicability of nondiscrimination rules coupled with the wave of new policies and regulatory and enforcement actions should alert private businesses and state and local government agencies of the need to exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against potential disability or other Civil Rights discrimination challenges under employment and a broad range of other laws.

Business Should Get Serious About Discrimination Risk Management

Government contractors and subcontractors as well as other employers should review these rules to assess their potential impact, as well as evaluate the adequacy of already existing practices and documentation with discrimination and other laws with the help of qualified legal counsel experienced with advising government contractors and other businesses about these and related non-discrimination rules within the scope of attorney-client privilege.

In anticipation of these activities,  these and other employers may want to participate in one of the following “introductory webinars” on the new rules this week (with repeats in September) to provide overviews of the key points of the rules

  • OFCCP Webinars on the VEVRAA Final Rule on August 29, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. (Eastern) – Register or September 11, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. (Eastern) – Register; and
  • OFCCP Webinars on the Section 503 Final on August 30, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. (Eastern) – Register or September 18, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. (Eastern) – Register.

All organizations, public or private, government contractor or not, should act to ensure both that their organizations, their policies, and people in form and in action understand and comply with current federal nondiscrimination laws and that these compliance activities are well-documented to help defend against potential charges or other challenges.  Because of changing regulatory and enforcement trends, organizations and their leaders should avoid assuming the adequacy of current compliance and risk management. Most organization should reevaluate their assessments about whether their organization is a federal government contractor or subcontractor to minimize the risk of overlooking critical obligations.

Many organizations need to update their understanding, policies and practices in light of tightening rules and enforcement. The scope and applicability of federal nondiscrimination and other laws has grown and evolved in recent years by the differences in perspectives of the Obama Administration from the Bush Administration, as well as statutory, regulatory, judicial precedent and enforcement changes.  In addition, all organization should conduct well-documented periodic training and take other actions to monitor and enforce compliance by staff, contractors and others with whom they do business.

For Help With Compliance & Risk Management and Defense

If you need help in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your organization’s compliance, risk manage or other  internal controls practices or actions, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping private and governmental organizations and their management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; schools and other governmental agencies and others design, administer and defend innovative compliance, risk management, workforce, compensation, employee benefit, privacy, procurement and other management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, procurement, conflict of interest, discrimination management, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, re-engineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to reach other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at


©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

Tighten Disability Discrimination Defenses As National Disability Employment Awareness Month Promises To Whip Up New Claims & Awareness

October 1, 2012

President Obama’s declaration today (October 1, 2012) of October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month reminds business that U.S. businesses and their leaders need to tighten their disability discrimination risk management and compliance in light of the Obama Administration’s emphasis on aggressively interpreting and enforcing disability discrimination laws, rising private plaintiff lawsuits and other recent regulatory and judicial changes.  With the Administration expected to step up further its already substantial educational outreach to the disabled and their advocates, U.S. employers should brace for this month’s celebration to fuel even more disability discrimination claims and other activity by the disabled and their activists.

Since taking office, President Obama has make enforcing and expanding the rights of the disabled in employment and other areas a leading priority. 

In his proclamation today, President Obama reaffirmed his often stated commitment to the aggressive enforcement of disability laws and other efforts to promote opportunities for disabled individuals, stating:

“[My Administration remains committed to helping our businesses, schools, and communities support our entire workforce. To meet this challenge,… we are striving to make it easier to get and keep those jobs by improving compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.”

As the administration marks the month, U.S. employers and other business leaders can expect the Obama Administration will be stepping up its already aggressive outreach to disabled Americans to promote awareness of their disability law rights and tools for asserting and enforcing these rights.  See, e.g. October Is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).

Business Faces Growing Employment Disability Exposures

As part of his administration’s commitment, the Obama Administration has moved to aggressively enforce the disability and accommodations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other federal disability discrimination laws.  The reach and effectiveness of these efforts has been enhanced by statutory and regulatory changes that require employers to exercise greater efforts to meet their compliance obligations and manage their disability and other discrimination risks.

ADA Exposures Heightened

The ADA, for instance, generally prohibits disability discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as this does not pose an undue hardship.  Violations of the ADA can expose businesses to substantial liability. Violations of the ADA may be prosecuted by the EEOC or by private lawsuits.  Employees or applicants that can prove they experienced prohibited disability discrimination under the ADA generally can recover actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and up to $300,000 of exemplary damages (depending on the size of the employer).   

In recent years, amendments to the original provisions of the ADA have made it easier for plaintiffs and the EEOC to prove disabled status of an individual.  Businesses should exercise caution to carefully document legitimate business justification for their hiring, promotion and other employment related decisions about these and other individuals who might qualify as disabled.  Provisions of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) that expand the definition of “disability” under the ADA,  As signed into law on September 25, 2008, the ADAAA amended the definition of “disability” for purposes of the disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that that has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.  The ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, provisions of the ADAAA that took effect January 1, 2009 change the way that these statutory terms should be interpreted in several ways. Most significantly, the Act:

  • Directs EEOC to revise that part of its regulations defining the term “substantially limits;”
  • Expands the definition of “major life activities” by including two non-exhaustive lists: (1) The first list includes many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating); and (2) The second list includes major bodily functions (e.g., “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions”);
  • States that mitigating measures other than “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability;
  • Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
  • Changes the definition of “regarded as” so that it no longer requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity, and instead says that an applicant or employee is “regarded as” disabled if he or she is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire or termination) based on an impairment that is not transitory and minor; and
  • Provides that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.

The ADAAA also emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis.In adopting these changes, Congress expressly sought to overrule existing employer-friendly judicial precedent construing the current provisions of the ADA and to require the EEOC to update its existing guidance to confirm with the ADAAA Amendments.  Under the leadership of the Obama Administration, the EEOC and other federal agencies have embraced this charge and have significantly stepped up enforcement of the ADA and other federal discrimination laws.

Recent enforcement, regulatory and other activities by the EEOC show that the EEOC is enthusiastically moving forward to exercise its regulatory and enforcement powers under these enhanced ADA provisions to tighten requirements for employers and to enforce its rules. See e.g.,  Leprino Foods To Pay $550K To Settle OFCCP Charge Pre-Hire Screening Test Illegally Discriminated « As EEOC Steps Up ADA Accommodation Enforcement, New DOD Apple App, Other Resources Released; Wal-Mart Settlement Shows ADA Risks When Considering Employee Return To Work Accommodation Requests & Inquiries; Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s.

Rising Rehabilitation Act Risks For Government Contractors

Beyond the generally applicable risks applicable to all employers of more than 15 employees under the ADA, federal and state government contractors face more responsibilities and risks. 

Subject to limited exceptions, government contractors providing services or supplies on ARRA or other government-funded contracts or projects must comply both with generally applicable employment discrimination requirements and special statutory and contractual nondiscrimination, affirmative action, and recordkeeping requirements applicable government contractors. For instance, federal law generally requires government contractors to comply with the special equal employment opportunity requirements of  Executive Order 11246 (EO 11246); Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 503); and the Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA).   Pursuant to these laws, business with the federal government, both contractors and subcontractors, generally must follow a number of statutory and contractual requirements to follow the fair and reasonable standard that they not discriminate in employment on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, disability or status as a protected veteran. OFCCP generally audits and enforces these requirements. Memo to Funding Recipients: Compliance with Applicable Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity Statutes, Regulations, and Executive Orders.  

OFCCP has made clear that it will conduct compliance evaluations and host compliance assistance events to ensure that federal contractors comply and are aware of their responsibilities under EO 11246, Section 503 and VEVRAA. 

While many government contractors may be tempted to become complacent about OFCCP exposures based on reports of the OFCCP’s relatively low enforcement in the past, see Report Says OFCCP Enforcement Data Show Infrequent Veteran, Disability Bias Findings | Bloomberg BNA recent enforcement data documents OFCCP is getting much more serious and aggressive about auditing and enforcing compliance with its affirmative action and other requirements against government contractors under the Obama Administration.  See, OFCCP Enforcement Data is Available on a New DOL Website. See also, Affirmative Action Update: OFCCP Enforcement Statistics Show Increase in Violations.  The readiness of OFCCP to enforce its rules is illustrated by the settlement of an OFCCP action filed against federal contractor Nash Finch Co. (Nash Finch) announceed last week.  Under the settlement, Nash Finch to pay $188,500 in back wages and interest and offer jobs to certain women applicants who OFCCP charged Nash rejected for the entry-level position of order selector at the company’s distribution facility in Lumberton, Minnesota.  See Settlement of OFCCP Employment Discrimination Charge Reminder To ARRA, Other Government Contractors Of Heightened Enforcement Risks.

These government contractor disability discrimination risks are particularly acute where the government contractor works on or provides supplies on contacts or projects funded in whole or in part by monies provided under ARRA.    When the contract or project in question receives any funding out of the $787 billion of stimulus funding provided by ARRA, special OFCCP rules applicable to ARRA funded projects necessitates that federal contractors exercise special care to understand and meet their responsibilities and manage associated exposures.   See, e.g. Settlement of OFCCP Employment Discrimination Charge Reminder To ARRA, Other Government Contractors Of Heightened Enforcement Risks

GINA & Other Medical Information Nondiscrimination & Privacy Risks

Employers also need to use care to ensure that their hiring and other employment practices, as well as their employee benefits, workers’ compensation and wellness practices are up to date and properly managed to mitigate exposures under laws like the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA),  the ADA’s medical information privacy requirements,  as well as the privacy and nondiscrimination rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act and other relevant federal and state laws.

Signed into law by President Bush on May 21, 2008 and in effect since November 21, 2009, for instance, Title VII of GINA amended the Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information and to restrict the ability of employers and their health plans to require, collect or retain certain genetic information. Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information. Employees can sue for damages and other relief like now available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.  For instance, GINA’s employment related provisions include rules that:

  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
  • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
  • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
  • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and
  • Regulate the collection, use, access and disclosure of genetic information by employer sponsored and certain other health plans.

These employment provisions of GINA are in addition to amendments to HIPAA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Public Health Service Act, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, and Title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act that are effective for group health plan for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009.  Under these HIPAA and GINA rules, health plans generally may not make certain medical inquiries or discriminate against employees or their family members based on family or individual medical history or genetic information.  In addition, health plans and others are required to safeguard personal medical information and may only share that information only under very limited circumstances requiring specific documentation be in place and that the parties can prove that the access and use of that information is appropriately restricted.  Violation of these and other rules can have significant civil and in some cases even criminal liabilities for companies, plans, plan fiduciaries and company officials that take part in violations of these rules.

Businesses Should Act To Manage Risks

The ADAAA amendments, the Rehabilitation Act’s expanded reach, and the Obama Administration’s emphasis on enforcement make it likely that businesses generally will face more disability claims from a broader range of employees and will have fewer legal shields to defend themselves against these claims. These changes will make it easier for certain employees to qualify and claim protection as disabled under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other disability discrimination laws. 

All U.S. businesses should review and tighten the adequacy of their existing compliance and risk management practices to promote and document compliance.  These efforts should focus on all relevant hiring, recruitment, promotion, compensation, recordkeeping and reporting policies and practices internally, as well as those of any recruiting agencies, subcontractors or other business partners whose actions might impact on compliance.

In light of these and other developments and risks, businesses generally should act cautiously when dealing with applicants or employees with actual, perceived, or claimed physical or mental impairments to minimize exposures under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act and other laws.  Management should exercise caution to carefully and appropriately assess and identify the potential legal significance of physical or mental impairments or conditions that might be less significant in severity or scope, correctable through the use of eyeglasses, hearing aids, daily medications or other adaptive devices, or that management might be tempted to assume fall outside the ADA’s scope.  

Likewise, businesses should be ready for the EEOC, OFCCP and the courts to treat a broader range of disabilities, including those much more limited in severity and life activity restriction, to qualify as disabling for purposes of the Act. Businesses should assume that a greater number of employees with such conditions are likely to seek to use the ADA as a basis for challenging hiring, promotion and other employment decisions.  For this reason, businesses generally should tighten job performance and other employment recordkeeping to enhance their ability to demonstrate nondiscriminatory business justifications for the employment decisions made by the businesses.

Businesses also should consider tightening their documentation regarding their procedures and processes governing the  collection and handling records and communications that may contain information regarding an applicant’s physical or mental impairment, such as medical absences, worker’s compensation claims, emergency information, or other records containing health status or condition related information.  The ADA generally requires that these records be maintained in separate confidential files and disclosed only to individuals with a need to know under circumstances allowed by the ADA. 

As part of this process, businesses also should carefully review their employment records, group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with, and manage exposure under  the genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy rules enacted as part of GINA, the health care privacy rules of the HIPAA, and the medical record privacy rules of the ADA.  Particular care should be used when planning wellness, health risk assessment, work-related injury, family or other medical leave or related programs, all of which raise particular risks and concerns.

In the face of the rising emphasis of OFCCP, the EEOC and other federal and state agencies on these audit and enforcement activities, government contractors should exercise additional compliance and risk management efforts beyond these generally recommended steps.   Among other things, these steps should include the following:

  • Government contractors and subcontractors should specifically review their existing or proposed contracts and involvements to identify projects or contracts which may involve federal or state contracts or funding that could trigger responsibility.  In this respect, businesses should conduct well-documented inquiries when proposing and accepting contracts to ensure that potential obligations as a government contractor are not overlooked because of inadequate intake procedures. Businesses also should keep in mind that ARRA and other federal program funds often may be filtered through a complex maze of federal grants or program funding to states or other organizations, which may pass along government contractor status and liability when subcontracting for services as part of the implementation of broader programs.  Since the existence of these obligations often is signaled by contractual representations in the contracts with these parties, careful review of contractual or bid specifications and commitments is essential.  However, it also generally is advisable also to inquire about whether the requested products or services are provided pursuant to programs or contracts subject to these requirements early in the process. 
  • In addition to working to identify contracts and arrangements that are covered by OFCCP or other requirements, government contractors and other businesses also should reconfirm and continuously monitor the specific reporting, affirmative action, and other requirements that apply to any programs that may be subject to OFCCP requirements to ensure that they fully understand and implement appropriate procedures to comply with these conditions as well as pass along  the obligation to make similarly necessary arrangements to any subcontractors or suppliers that the government contractor involves as a subcontractor. 
  • Throughout the course of the contract, the government contractor also should take steps to maintain and file all required reports and monitor and audit operational compliance with these and other requirements.  
  • The organization should develop and administer appropriate procedures for monitoring and investigating potential compliance concerns and maintaining documentation of that activity.  Any known potential deficiencies or complaints should be promptly investigated and redressed with the assistance of qualified counsel in a prompt manner to mitigate potential risks.
  • Documentation should be carefully retained and organized on a real time and continuous basis to faciliate efficiency and effectiveness in completing required reports, monitoring compliance indicators and responding to OFCCP, EEOC or private plaintiff charges as well as other compliance inquiries.
  • Any audit inquiries or charges should be promptly referred to qualified legal counsel for timely evaluation and response.
  • When available and affordable, management should consider securing appropriate employment practices liability coverage, indemnification from business partners and other liability protection and assurance to help mitigate investigagtion and defense costs.
  • Board members or other senior management should include periodic review of compliance in their agenda.

If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the Rehabilitation Act, ADA, GINA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of help with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Board Certified Labor and Employment Attorney and Management Consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at 469.767.8872.

About The Author

Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to meet their business and operational goals and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 25 years human resource, employee benefits and management experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail here.

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DOL Plans To Tighten Employment Protections For Disabled Veterans & Other Disabled Employees Signals Need For Businesses To Tighten Defenses

December 18, 2009

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

U.S. businesses need to tighten their disability discrimination defenses in light of announced U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) plans to plans to tighten regulatory protections for and step up enforcement of laws protecting disabled veterans and other disabled employees.

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis on December 7, 2009 announced plans to revise and tighten regulations implementing the disability discrimination provisions of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended (VEVRAA) as part of the DOL Regulatory Agenda for the upcoming year.  These laws require Federal contractors to take affirmative action to employ individuals with disabilities and disabled veterans. Both laws are enforced by the Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and generally apply to federal government contractors and subcontractors. 

In furtherance of these goals, OFCCP recently published:

  • An Advance Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) concerning “The Evaluation of Recruitment and Placement Results under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, (Section 503).” (ANPRM); and
  • The Evaluation of Recruitment and Placement Results under the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended (VEVRAA) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).

In preparation for these regulatory changes, the OFCCP will be inviting public comment proposals to tighten these affirmative action requirements, holding town hall meetings, and inviting other input.


As part of the ANPRM concerning disability discrimination in violation of Section 503, OFCCPE is compiling research and information barriers to employment that individuals with disabilities face.  Toward that end, it plans to review data that may be used for establishing numerical goals. The agency plans to conduct several Town Hall meetings through Spring 2010.  The ANPRM will invite the public to comment on ways to improve employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The ANPRM will seek comments on issues such as:

  • How affirmative action requirements can be strengthened so that employment opportunities for people with disabilities are measurably increased;
  • How federal contractors and subcontractors can improve monitoring of their employment practices to identify barriers to the employment of individuals with disabilities and improve employment opportunities; and
  • What specific employment practices have been verifiably effective in the recruitment.


Concurrently, the VEVRRA NPRM is targeted at supporting the successful transition of servicemen and women into the civilian workforce, especially disabled veterans and those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. OFCCP plans to design the proposed VEVRRA regulation to:

  • Increase employment opportunities for protected veterans with federal contractors and subcontractors; and
  • Strengthen affirmative action requirements so that federal contractors and subcontractors will be required to increase monitoring of employment practices in order to improve recruitment, hiring, training and other employment opportunities for veterans.


The OFCCP’s announcement of plans to seek to tighten affirmative action protections for veterans and other employees with disabilities reflects the heightened emphasis that the OFCCP and other federal agencies are placing the enactment and enforcement of protections for persons with disabilities under the Obama Administration. 

Following on the heels of Congress’ recent expansion of the availability of the employment disability discrimination protections of the Americans With Disabilities Act and new genetic information nondiscrimination requirements under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, the OFCCP’s plans to tighten existing OFCCP affirmative action requirements for persons with disabilities reflect the heightened disability discrimination risks for employers. 

U.S. businesses concerned about these developments may wish to pursue a variety of steps to help mitigate their risks.  For instance, government contractors and other employers may wish to consider:

  • Broadening efforts to recruit persons with disabilities where appropriate and document these efforts
  • Auditing existing employment, recruitment and other policies and practices for compliance with these evolving federal requirements concerning the employment rights of persons with disabilities;
  • Conducting well-documented training and other activities that demonstrate your company’s commitment/openness to the employment of veterans and others with disabilities;
  • Promptly conducting well-documented investigations into claims and other events that might suggest possible prohibited employment discrimination against persons with disabilities;
  • Monitoring OFCCP, EEOC and other regulatory and enforcement activities for the proposal or enactment of new requirements or enforcement positions;
  • Submitting comments or providing other input to federal regulators and legislators regarding regulations or legislation that might be of concern before it is enacted, where appropriate; and
  • Reviewing and tightening disability discrimination reporting and investigation procedures; and
  • Evaluating the adequacy of your company’s existing employment practices and other liability insurance in light of expanding liability exposures.

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to these or other employment, health or other employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance or other concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation and employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

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©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.