Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey, Inc. touts its hiring of people with disabilities, but recently settled a workplace discrimination lawsuit for $65,000.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought the lawsuit against Goodwill and announced Monday that the two groups had settled. According to the suit, Robin Hawker, who worked in the janitorial program and has a cognitive disability, ultimately ended up being fired because of his limitations. Hawker’s disability made him require additional training and coaching to complete his tasks and understand the rules he had to follow. Instead of extra guidance, he was given written warnings which he was unable to understand. He was eventually let go because he kept making the same mistakes.
The complaint states Hawker’s disability makes it difficult for him to think, speak, interact with others and read. As part of Hawker’s job, he was hired under contract with the City of New York to clean buildings occupied by the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA). He allegedly was never advised on how to interact with HRA employees or clients. He was told only his supervisor — who was not trained on how to work with individuals with disabilities and did not work in the same location as him — could instruct him.
Hawker received a written warning about his conduct around HRA clients and employees after he was moved to clean on a floor of their building where many people were present. He told his supervisor he needed someone to explain the warning to him because he could not read or understand it. Aside from not entering rooms without permission, Hawker received no other guidance, the complaint says.
After another similar incident, he was allegedly given the same lack of feedback. Goodwill moved him to the first floor of the same HRA building, where there were even more people present. Goodwill terminated Hawker’s employment in early 2017 because of another incident. The complaint states that Goodwill knew about Hawker’s disability and limitations upon his hiring and repeatedly did not offer him the accommodations he required.
Goodwill’s alleged behavior violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which states any employer aware of an employee’s disability and need for accommodation must provide that accommodation unless it presents an undue burden.
Accommodations listed include job coaching, additional training, modifications to operating procedures or other measures that would allow the employee to complete their tasks. The law also requires employers to engage in an interactive process with their employees to determine if there is a way to accommodate the employee’s disability.
“At no point in Hawker’s employment did Defendant engage in an interactive process to attempt to identify an accommodation that would allow Hawker to continue to perform the essential functions of his job,” the lawsuit says.
Under the consent decree settling the case, Goodwill will pay Hawker $65,000 and enact new procedures in its janitorial program. Additionally, under the agreement, Goodwill will provide ADA training to supervisors and report denied requests for reasonable accommodation or complaints of disability discrimination to the EEOC.