Federal Agency Charged Railroad Company Refused to Hire Qualified Machinist Due to Epilepsy
SEATTLE — The Washington, D.C.-based National Passenger Railroad Corporation, better known as Amtrak, will pay $112,000 and provide other relief to settle a federal disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced.
According to EEOC’s suit, Amtrak withdrew its job offer of machinist journeyman at its Seattle yard when it learned Shawn Moe had a history of three epileptic seizures over the course of his life. Amtrak cited safety concerns, despite Moe’s record of safely working a similar job and despite his neurologist verifying to Amtrak that his epilepsy was successfully controlled on medication, that he had been seizure-free for years, and that he was able to safely perform the essential functions of the job without limitation while on medication.
“The fact that I have epilepsy has never prevented me from safely doing my job, not in the years I worked for another locomotive company before I applied to Amtrak, and not at the railroad machinist job I found after Amtrak took back its job offer,” said Moe. “Amtrak’s decision to withdraw its offer hit my family at a particularly vulnerable time because my wife and I just had our first baby. I thought, what if other employers react as Amtrak did and I can no longer practice my trade? How would I support my family?”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because of his disability, and also requires an employer to assess a worker’s actual ability to perform job functions where potential safety concerns are raised. EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington [Case No. 2:15-cv-01269] after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The three-year consent decree settling the lawsuit provides $112,000 to Moe in lost wages and compensatory damages. The decree also requires Amtrak to train its staff on hiring obligations and assessing reasonable accommodations under the ADA. Amtrak will also implement and disseminate a modified ADA policy, and will post a notice for employees about the consent decree and employees’ rights under the ADA.
EEOC Senior Trial Attorney May Che said, “Amtrak concluded that Mr. Moe presented a significant safety risk without assessing the actual likelihood of him having a seizure at all. In enacting the ADA, Congress stated that employers must rely on objective, factual evidence — not on subjective perceptions, irrational fears, and patronizing attitudes — about the nature or effect of a particular disability, or of disability generally.”
EEOC Seattle Field Director Nancy Sienko added, “One out of every 26 people will develop epilepsy at some point in their lives. Given that epilepsy reportedly affects 2.2 million Americans and affects each person differently, it is critical that employers do not base job decisions on stereotypes, but instead carefully consider an employee’s abilities.”
According to publicly available information and its website, www.amtrak.com, Amtrak is a publicly funded service, operated and managed as a for-profit corporation with headquartered in Washington, D.C. In fiscal year 2015, Amtrak served over 30.8 million passengers and had $3.2 billion in revenue, while employing more than 20,000 people nationwide.
EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) today published detailed guidance to transit agencies on how to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Since the ADA became law in 1990, FTA has ensured that transit systems comply with the ADA’s provisions on public transportation, primarily through education and investigations of possible violations. To enhance understanding of the Act, the new circular offers a user-friendly, one-stop resource on its requirements.
“We have made great progress in advancing accessible public transportation, but we still have work to do,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Foxx. “We must ensure that Americans of all ages and abilities can access our nation’s transportation system. Today’s guidance reinforces our commitment to full implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Public transit ridership increased 25 percent over the last 20 years, including a rise in the number of passengers with disabilities, according to DOT’s Beyond Traffic report. Transit agencies have made major capital investments to make nearly all of America’s busiest public transit stations accessible. Today, nearly all transit buses, light rail and heavy rail vehicles are ADA accessible, as well as two-thirds of rail transit stations.
“One of the important jobs we do at FTA is to ensure mobility for everyone, and this ADA Circular will help do just that,” said FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan. “For people of all abilities and ages, public transportation provides a lifeline to jobs, education and medical care. We need to maintain these ladders of opportunity for all.”
With the 25th anniversary of the landmark legislation as a backdrop, the release of FTA’s ADA Circular represents a major milestone in assistance to the transit community. It thoroughly explains ADA requirements for public transit, providing real-life situations as examples of good practices for the transit industry to ensure accessible services for riders. The document does not amend or supersede the DOT ADA regulations; rather, it offers explanatory scenarios and sample templates, such as a rail station checklist for new construction and alterations.
FTA developed the ADA Circular in three phases because of the breadth of the regulations. Each chapter was submitted to the public for notice and comment in the Federal Register and went through a 60-day comment period.
Bethesda, Md. – Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Acting Administrator Therese McMillan was at a bus stop just north of Bethesda Maryland to highlight the success of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on the landmark legislation’s 25th anniversary. The Acting Administrator spoke about the great advances that have been made since the Act was passed, most notably that nationwide, 99.8 percent of transit buses are accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, thanks to features like lifts and ramps.
“The Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that everyone, including people with disabilities, can fully access the transportation services they need to get to work, to school and to live their lives,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “I commend the public transportation industry for its hard work to make subways, light rail, buses and other transit services increasingly accessible.”
In spite of the large percentage of facilities that are compliant, many bus stops, typically maintained by local government agencies, remain a challenge to accessibility. To address that, Maryland’s Montgomery County embarked on a comprehensive rehabilitation program of the county’s 5,340 stops. At the North Bethesda bus stop today, McMillan and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett highlighted how the county’s $11 million Bus Stop Improvement Program brought the county’s stops into ADA compliance. Since 2006, the county has improved safety and increased accessibility at 89 percent of its bus stops, in part with ADA-accessible paths for passengers to get to and from bus stops.
“We congratulate Montgomery County for improving its bus system, which provides a lifeline to people who don’t drive,” McMillan said. “We know that many people with disabilities travel by bus, and we want to be sure that they can travel anywhere public transportation is offered across the country.”
People with disabilities are relying increasingly on buses to participate in daily activities rather than paratransit. A 2013 Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) report studied seven transit systems across the country and found that ridership on fixed-route transit by persons with disabilities was two to six times greater than ridership on paratransit. A TCRP nationwide survey of people with disabilities found that one-third of respondents indicated they wanted to take public transportation, specifically fixed-route buses.
All rail transit systems built since 1990, many of them light rail, are required to meet ADA regulations for accessibility and are inspected by FTA for compliance as a condition of federal funding. DOT’s Reasonable Modification Rule, which went into effect last week, clarifies that public transportation providers are required to make reasonable modifications to their policies, practices and procedures to ensure programs and services are accessible.
While the rail transit industry has ensured compliance with an ADA requirement that at least one car per train is accessible, many transit systems struggle to retrofit older, often space-constrained stations.
“We need to do more to ensure that people with disabilities have reliable access to public transportation, which is why we are seeking additional investments in our nation’s transportation infrastructure,” McMillan said. “Older stations remain challenging for people in wheelchairs to traverse, and elevators frequently go out of service, leaving them with few or no options.”
FTA supports transit agencies nationwide through a combination of annual formula funds and grants for transit projects. Montgomery County’s bus program receives approximately $10 million a year through FTA’s Urbanized Area Formula Grant program.
As part of the celebration of ADA-25, the Department of Transportation is co-hosting an “ADA: 25 Years of Disability Civil Rights” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History that demonstrates accessibility at home, in the workplace and in transportation. The exhibit will run Friday-Sunday on the National Mall behind the American History Museum as part of a slate of ADA-25 commemorative activities.