The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has slapped Werner Enterprises with a lawsuit accusing the Omaha-based transportation company of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for refusing to hire a Texas driver because he is deaf.
Werner admitted not hiring Andrew Deuschle, but denied engaging in discriminatory practices.
According to the EEOC's complaint, the 48-year-old man who was born deaf received an exemption from the hearing requirement set out in federal regulations for commercial motor vehicle drivers.
In 2014, while a student at Amarillo College's Truck Driving Academy, Deuschle was told by a recruiter for Werner that they couldn't hire deaf people for driving positions, EEOC attorney Emily Keatley wrote in the lawsuit.
She said after Deuschle graduated and got his commercial driver license, he applied to work for Werner and wasn't offered a job.
In 2015, he applied again using its online application, mentioning his more than four months' experience as a driver for C.R. England but not that he is deaf; and Werner told him his application had been pre-approved.
In a phone call using an interpreter, Deuschle disclosed he is deaf, Keatley said. When Werner didn't offer him a job, he emailed the employee who had called him to express his continued interest in working for Werner.
She said a number of emails followed. Deuschle explained he had an exemption to the hearing requirement and provided a scanned copy of it, as well as his CDL to the company. But he never was offered a job.
Keatley said Werner's unlawful employment practices were "intentional and were done with malice or reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of Deuschle."
In a response to the lawsuit filed last week, Werner's attorney, Joseph Jones, said Deuschle "posed a direct threat to the health and safety of himself and/or others in that allowing him to operate a commercial motor vehicle creates a significant risk to the health and safety of others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodations."
Jones said the decision not to hire him was based on a bona fide occupational qualification, and that Deuschle couldn't perform the duties of a driver in a safe and efficient manner.
"The essence of Werner's business operation would therefore be undermined if Werner were required to employ Deuschle," he wrote in the answer.
Jones asked the court to dismiss the EEOC's company and award Werner its costs and attorney fees to defend the case.
The EEOC asked the court to enter a judgment declaring that Werner's employment application violates the ADA and to order the company to stop making any disability-related inquiries of job candidates. They also are asking for the court to order Werner to give Deuschle back-pay, job search expenses and other compensation, plus punitive damages.
In a press release about the lawsuit, Andrea Baran, regional attorney for EEOC's St. Louis district, said people who are deaf face many challenges, “but finding and holding a good job should not be one of them.”
She said the EEOC “will hold accountable those employers who have not learned that deaf people can drive over-the-road trucks as well as anyone.”