Norfolk Southern Railroad Settles EEOC Disability Discrimination Charge for $2.5 Million

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 3, 2020

Norfolk Southern Railroad has entered an agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to pay $2.5 million to 37 workers to settle claims that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Norfolk Southern operates a 19,500-mile freight railroad system in 22 states and the District of Columbia.

The EEOC's lawsuit accused Norfolk Southern of engaging in a practice of disqualifying employees and applicants from employment based on a range of actual or perceived disabilities, or having a history of such disabilities. The conditions were disclosed during pre-employment or return-to-work medical examinations. Employees or applicants were turned down for work for conditions including cancer, diabetes, past drug addiction, arthritis, post-traumatic stress disorder, heart conditions, chronic pain and bone or joint weakness.

The EEOC also alleged that the transportation company did not take into consideration whether, or to what extent, the workers' conditions might affect their ability to perform the jobs safely. The ADA prohibits employment discrimination based on an individual's disability, an individual's history of disability or an employer's perception that a worker has a disability.

In addition to the monetary damages, the settlement decree prohibits Norfolk Southern from engaging in future ADA violations. In addition, it is required to take measures to prevent workplace disability discrimination related to medical evaluations, such as:

  • Updating policies and procedures;
  • Providing training;
  • Appointing a monitor for decree compliance; and
  • Reporting to the EEOC.

"Skilled workers with disabilities … should have every opportunity to earn a living, contribute to the national economy, and benefit their employers and co-workers," said EEOC Pittsburgh Area Office Director Deborah A. Kane, noting that several of the employees in the case also are US military veterans. "Employers should carefully evaluate such workers, using the best available medical and objective evidence and a correct understanding of ADA requirements, to ensure workers are not denied opportunities based on inaccurate conclusions about their ability to safely perform particular jobs."

Employers are required by the ADA to engage in an interactive process with an employee or applicant to determine whether a reasonable accommodation would allow them to perform the essential functions of a job.

Norfolk Southern denies that discrimination occurred, and the settlement agreement does not admit liability or concede any wrongdoing. Earlier this year, the company agreed to pay $350,000 and take substantial non-monetary action to settle EEOC age discrimination charges. In that case, the EEOC alleged that the transportation company had an unwritten policy of not hiring individuals older than 51 years as special agents in railroad security because the company believed they would not work for at least 10 years.