Court of Appeals Upholds Verdict for EEOC against Service Temps / Smith Personnel Solutions

DALLAS — In a ruling issued April 26, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has affirmed a jury’s verdict in favor of a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) disability discrimination lawsuit against Service Temps, Inc. doing business as Smith Personnel Solutions, the federal agency announced on May 10, 2012.

The EEOC had charged in its suit (EEOC v. Service Temps, Inc. d/b/a Smith Personnel Solutions, Case No. 3:08-cv-01552, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas), that Service Temps refused to hire Jacquelyn Moncada for a stock clerk position, despite her qualifications and experience, upon learning that Moncada is deaf. Through a sign language interpreter, Moncada attempted to explain to the company that she was fully capable of performing the job and that she had several years of stock clerk experience. The company refused to conduct an interview or consider Moncada for the position. A Service Temps manager explicitly told Moncada that she would not be hired because she could not hear.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits disability discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as this does not pose an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

On Sept. 22, 2010, a Dallas jury of three women and seven men returned a verdict against the employer, finding that the company had violated the ADA by refusing to hire Moncada because of her disability. The jury awarded Moncada money damages for lost wages and emotional harm and an additional amount in punitive damages.

After the verdict was rendered, EEOC moved for an injunction against Smith Personnel to prohibit the company from discriminating on the basis of disability. On Jan. 11, 2011, the district court entered an order awarding Moncada $103,200, plus interest, in damages for lost wages, emotional harm and punitive damages. The district court also granted EEOC’s motion for an injunction, ordering that Smith Personnel be prohibited from discriminating against persons who are disabled, regarded as disabled, or having a record of a disability. Smith Personnel subsequently appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

On April 26, 2012, the Fifth Circuit issued a ruling rejecting all of Smith Personnel’s arguments on appeal. The Fifth Circuit Court adopted the arguments and analysis forwarded by EEOC’s appellate attorney, Christine J. Back. The higher court rejected the company’s arguments and concluded that misapplication of a claimed company policy by one of its employees is not necessarily a bar to finding that an employee acted within the scope of his employment.

The Fifth Circuit further noted that EEOC had presented evidence at trial demonstrating that Smith Personnel’s manager, who had hiring authority, was employed in a managerial capacity and acted within the scope of his employment when he did not allow Moncada to apply for a job, even if that act purportedly violated company policy.

“Jacquelyn Moncada demonstrated a great deal courage by coming forward to report what happened to her,” said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Joel Clark, one of the EEOC attorneys who tried the case to the jury along with Supervisory Trial Attorney Suzanne Anderson. “We hope the jury’s verdict and the Fifth Circuit’s support of it will play a part in breaking down the barriers that deaf applicants face in applying for employment.”

EEOC Regional Attorney Robert Canino added, “The Fifth Circuit’s decision acknowledges the diligent work of the jury at this trial. Justice was done. We are very pleased that Ms. Moncada can now close this chapter in her life and move forward.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.

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