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"The company is a joke. You sent me a one-armed security guard."
The complaint, from a community association that had hired Florida Commercial Security Services to provide it with a security guard, led to the removal of Alberto Tarud-Saieh from an $8-an-hour security guard position. (Tarud-Saieh lost his right arm in a car accident.) The company failed to reassign him to another post, effectively terminating his employment.
His former employer is now learning a very important lesson, courtesy of a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: The customer isn't always right.
Jury Sides With EEOC, Employee
At trial, the EEOC argued that it is long-settled law that discriminatory customer preferences and stereotypes about what individuals with disabilities can and cannot do violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The jury sided with the EEOC and Tarud-Saieh, finding in his favor on the merits and awarding him $35,922 in damages.
According to the EEOC's press release, the agency will also seek an injunction preventing future discrimination by Florida Commercial Security Services, as well as other relief, such as training and implementation of anti-discrimination employment policies to be determined by the court.
"I worked with Mr. Tarud-Saieh for over a year and a half and personally saw how the discrimination affected him," Kristen Foslid, a Miami-based EEOC attorney who worked on the case, said in a statement.
Tarud-Saieh "was vindicated when the jury agreed with him that he could perform the job he is licensed to do," Foslid continued. "He hopes that other employers will get the message that they cannot rely on stereotypes and assumptions, and must treat people based on their actual abilities."
Here, the customer thought that a one-armed security guard would not be up to the job. We've seen other cases where a human resources official made the determination (and it backfired).
Whether a disability is temporary or permanent, and whether it obviously impairs the employee's ability to do his job or not, a company's best bet is to get an expert's opinion before making any rash decisions. And seriously: Don't give in to the nagging customer with preconceived notions about an employee's ability unless you have an expert's opinion to back you up.