EEOC Files Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Against Major Copper Tubing Manufacturer

In August the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it had filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against KobeWieland Copper Products, LLC (EEOC v. KobeWieland Copper Products, LLC, Civil Action No. 1:10-cv-636).  The suit charges that the company refused to hire Joseph Cardwell for a full-time caster position due to a perceived disability.  Cardwell is missing fingers on his left hand; he sustained this injury from a childhood accident, but has successfully coped with the condition ever since.

KobeWieland, LLC produces copper tubing and employs over 500 employees in its two plants in Pine Hall, North Carolina and Wheeling, Illinois.  The manufacturing company hired Cardwell as a caster on September 24, 2008; yet when the new employee arrived for his first day of work, one of its Human Resource Specialists noticed that Cardwell did not have all ten fingers, and the company immediately rescinded its offer of employment.  The HR Specialist claimed that he felt the missing fingers would prevent Cardwell from effectively performing the job.

According to the EEOC complaint, Cardwell clarified that he could still do the job for which he was hired, and asked for the opportunity to demonstrate his ability.  However, the supervisors did not allow him to do so.

The EEOC maintains that Cardwell is fully qualified to perform the duties required by this position, but was denied employment because KobeWieland believes him to be disabled on account of the missing fingers.  Such an assumption of disability would constitute a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Initially, the EEOC attempted to reach a voluntary settlement with KobeWieland; after these attempts failed, the EEOC decided to file a suit with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, seeking back-pay, punitive damages, compensatory damages and rightful-place hiring for Cardwell.  The suit also seeks injunctive and other non-monetary relief.

An EEOC press release included the following remarks from Lynette Barnes, one of the regional attorneys representing Cardwell:

“It’s unfortunate that twenty years after the enactment of the American with Disabilities Act, some employers still react to applicants and employees based on myths, fears and stereotypes about a certain impairment that the individual may have … In this lawsuit, the EEOC alleges that rather than allowing the worker the opportunity to show that he could do the job, the company simply revoked the job offer because of his missing fingers.”

See further details, updates, and press releases on this case at the EEOC press release center.

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Emery Reddy