Court Rejects DuPont's Appeal Of $1 Million Discrimination
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 13, 2005
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA--The US. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana has rejected E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co.'s appeal of a $1.29 million discrimination award ordered last year to a former employee with disabilities.
Last October, a jury ordered the international chemical giant to pay Laura Barrios $1 million in punitive damages, $200,000 in front pay, and $91,000 in back pay for discriminating against her in violation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. DuPont challenged that decision.
According to a June 9 statement from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, District Judge Sarah S. Vance has ruled that "there is ample evidence from which the jury could have concluded that DuPont discriminated against Barrios with both malice and reckless indifference to her rights under the ADA . . . there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that DuPont engaged in a pattern of intentionally discriminatory and malicious conduct."
Referring to the punitive damage award, Vance wrote, "The jury may have concluded from this evidence that DuPont wished to force out an individual with a disability whether she could work or not - a reprehensible view with respect to individuals with disabilities."
Barrios worked for DuPont in several positions, the most recent as a member of the secretarial staff, from 1981 to 1999. She was able to perform all of the essential functions of her job, despite having severe scoliosis of the lumbar spine, lumbar disc disease with sciatica, lumbar spinal stenosis with compression neuropathy, neurogenic bladder, cervical spondylosis, previous cervical disc disease with surgical fusion, and reactive depression. Barrios experiences severe and chronic pain, walks slowly with a distinct limp, and has trouble lifting things.
The EEOC, which is responsible for enforcing employment provisions in the ADA, filed the lawsuit against DuPont in June of 2003. The suit alleged that DuPont violated Barrios' rights by requiring her to take a functional capacity exam that had nothing to do with her job. The exam tested her performance on a number of strenuous physical tasks such as climbing, standing for hours on end, lifting more than 20 pounds, doing straight leg lifts, and working overhead.
Barrios passed the test, even though it caused her both physical and emotional harm.
The company used the results of the test, however, to say she presented a danger in the workplace because she could not evacuate the building safely in an emergency. DuPont first put Barrios on short-term disability leave and then on total permanent disability retirement, which effectively ended her employment.
"Judge upholds jury verdict against DuPont for $591,000 in disability bias suit by EEOC" (EEOC)