Woman wins disability hiring case

A Twin Cities woman with a visual disability has received an $185,000 payment from a medical transportation company, to resolve a claim of discrimination. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MNDHR) announced resolution of the claim in December. State human rights officials made a finding of probable cause that disability discrimination occurred related to the failure to hire a job candidate with a disability.

Medical Transportation Management, which is based in the St. Paul area, paid Therese Dahlberg $185,000 to resolve alleged disability discrimination for failure to hire her. Dahlberg had applied for work with the company as a customer service representative. The company allegedly released Dahlberg from a job interview after the company’s human resources representative learned of Dahlberg’s visual disability.

Disability discrimination is one of the most common claims that MDHR investigates. From January to June of 2015, 23 percent of the cases the department investigated were disability discrimination charges.

“It is important to remember the critical opportunity for both the employer and the job candidate in creating Minnesota’s future workforce through competitive employment opportunities,” said Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey. “All employers must ensure that their management staff is knowledgeable about providing necessary reasonable accommodations during the job application and hiring process to allow job candidates with disabilities to participate.”

Dahlberg interviewed with a Medical Transportation Management human resources representative on Jan. 16, 2012. She was told, “There was no point in proceeding with the job interview as the accommodation for this disability (text-to-speech software) did not work on the respondent’s computer operating system.”

After Dahlberg’s interview, employees of the Minnesota State Services for the Blind performed an on-site evaluation of the respondent’s operating systems. The employees specifically investigated whether the certain text-to-speech software would effectively allow Dahlberg to perform the duties of a customer service representative.

Medical Transportation Management hired three candidates for the position, according to the MDHR determination memorandum. Medical Transportation Management indicated it did not hire the charging party because it was unable to accommodate her disability-related work restrictions.

“Sufficient evidence indicated the failure to hire [Dahlberg] was based upon speculative fears or challenges, which the evidence indicated could have been accommodated without posing an undue hardship to the respondent,” according to the memorandum.

Medical Transportation Management’s undue hardship claims were insufficient as concerns related to privacy could be addressed with headphones.

“As we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act, we need to remember that barriers to employment for people with disabilities are still very real,” said Joan Willshire, Minnesota State Council on Disability Executive Director. “This case illustrates the ongoing challenges for individuals with disabilities. The ADA states that people with disabilities have the right to equal access during the hiring process. Therefore, employers must give people with disabilities the same consideration as all other candidates. Assistive technologies help make that possible. Modern technology allows employers to reasonably accommodate most applicants who have a disability. Failure to provide reasonable accommodations is discrimination.”

Anyone who has questions or concerns about hiring issues relate to disability or discrimination related to disability or other protected class status under the Minnesota Human Rights Act can contact MDHR’s enforcement unit at: 651-539-1100 or online at mn.gov/mdhr/intake. For more information about disability discrimination and disability employment, visit mn.gov/mdhr or follow the conversation on Facebook or Twitter at @mnhumanrights

Other resources may be available through the Minnesota STAR (System of Technology to Achieve Results), which helps Minnesotans connect with assistive technology devices and services. STAR can be reached at 651-201-2640 or 1-888-234-1267, or by emailing star.program@state.mn.us

For more information on assistance for people who are visually impaired, contact State Services for the Blind, at 651-539-2300 or 1-800-652-9000, or here.