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Americall to pay $200,000 for refusing to hire blind job applicant

A Naperville, Illinois, telemarketing company will pay $200,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced. The EEOC alleged in its lawsuit that the Americall Group violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) when it refused to hire a qualified applicant because she was blind and used a guide dog. Americall employs over 3,000 employees and has locations in four states and two foreign countries.

The EEOC filed the lawsuit on August 24, 2004, on behalf of an applicant who had applied for a position at Americall as a telemarketing service representative. She had come to the interview at Americall's Lansing, Illinois, facility with her guide dog. After the interview, the company sent her a letter telling her that they could not accommodate her guide dog.

The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. Richard Mrizek, the EEOC trial attorney leading the government litigation effort, said that the EEOC was prepared to present an expert on guide dogs who had inspected the call center and found it suitable for use by a guide dog and user. The case was set to go to trial in January 2006. The consent decree entered by US District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow of the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago on December 1, 2005, provides $200,000 in monetary relief for the blind applicant and enjoins Americall from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of physical disabilities for the three-year duration of the decree. The decree also requires that Americall post a notice of the consent decree in its Illinois and Indiana locations; train all its managers, supervisors, and human resources employees on the ADA; report any complaints of disability discrimination to the EEOC; and distribute or make available its anti-discrimination policy to all employees and applicants.

In addition, Americall has offered and agreed, as part of the decree, to work with the Chicago Lighthouse for People who are Blind or Visually Impaired to seek out additional qualified applicants for employment.

Mrizek said, "It is illegal to deny reasonable accommodations to people with service dogs. This case is an important victory for service dog users across the country. The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations and that includes reasonably accommodating service animals."

John Rowe, the EEOC's district director in Chicago, said, "I am pleased that the parties reached an agreement that will work to educate Americall employees about the importance of the ADA and the employer's obligation to provide reasonable accommodations. Discrimination not only hurts those who are victimized, but also denies all of us the skills and services of good, capable people who have so much to offer."

EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory M. Gochanour said, "Though guide dogs may not be appropriate in all conceivable circumstances, there is no good reason why employers cannot readily accommodate service animals many office environments like call centers." The EEOC Regional Attorney in Chicago, John Hendrickson, added, "Guide dogs are trained to be non-disruptive and serve an important role in helping some disabled individuals function both in and out of the work place. This case should send a message to employers to not close their doors to disabled applicants and the service animals they use."

For more information on this and other topics, consult CCH Employment Practices Guide or CCH Labor Relations.

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