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Federal Court in Bangor rules against Bath Iron Works in disability discrimination case

On July 6, 2011, the United States District Court of Maine in Bangor issued a decision that permits a disability discrimination lawsuit against Bath Iron Works (BIW) to go forward. A former employee of BIW, Guillermo Blanco, brought the lawsuit against BIW (which is owned by General Dynamics Corporation).

The lawsuit alleges that BIW’s doctor violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and a similar Maine law, when he shared Mr. Blanco’s confidential medical information with BIW management. BIW fired Mr. Blanco because of the information the doctor provided to management. BIW said it fired Mr. Blanco because it thought he lied about the fact that he had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in a medical questionnaire. Mr. Blanco said he didn’t lie; he said he didn’t think the questionnaire asked about mental health issues. The Court said it didn’t matter whether he lied or not. The ADA forbids company doctors from sharing confidential medical information with management except in limited circumstances not present in this case. When the doctor told management that Mr. Blanco had ADHD, a violation of the ADA occurred. BIW will be held responsible for the violation if Mr. Blanco presents evidence to support his allegations because BIW’s doctor made the unlawful disclosure and its managers acted on the information.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces the ADA, “[h]istorically, many employers asked applicants and employees to provide information concerning their physical and/or mental condition. This information often was used to exclude and otherwise discriminate against individuals with disabilities–particularly nonvisible disabilities, such as diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, cancer, and mental illness–despite their ability to perform the job.” The ADA’s medical confidentiality requirements are important safeguards against discrimination because it is so easy for a manager to come up with a false excuse to fire an employee because he has a disability. By preventing managers from learning of employees’ disabilities, it prevents this type of discrimination.

The Maine Employee Rights Group is representing Mr. Blanco in this case.

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