ST. LOUIS – Tyson Foods Inc. has agreed to pay $35,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Tyson allegedly refused to hire a former employee because he had epilepsy, the EEOC charged.

Filed in May 2010, the EEOC lawsuit alleged Tyson failed to hire Mark White for an open maintenance job in its Sedalia, Mo., plant because he had epilepsy. Tyson’s refusal to hire White violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), EEOC said.

According to a press release, White’s epilepsy had been controlled by medication for 12 years and he had been previously employed by Tyson on two occasions during this time period. However, since last hiring White, Tyson instituted a new medical assessment procedure and refused to hire him because he did not pass a medical evaluation required for applicants with epilepsy to determine whether he could safely perform the job.

Tyson’s doctor performing the evaluation did not examine White, but relied on outdated medical research in determining that he could not safely perform the job, the press release claimed. At the same time, Tyson employed several other persons with epilepsy who had been grandfathered in.

In addition to agreeing to pay White $35,000 as back pay and compensatory damages, Tyson further agreed to institute a new assessment procedure for similar cases, EEOC relayed. As a result, an applicant who is disqualified from employment because of Tyson’s required medical assessment has the right to a second medical assessment at the applicant’s expense. What’s more, an independent and determinative third medical assessment will be made for those applicants not hired after the second assessment.

"Pursuant to Tyson’s policies and procedures and in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Tyson has used a three-step medical assessment process and always permits an applicant to provide additional medical information—as it did in this case—when an applicant has been disqualified for a position based on the judgment of an independent medical professional," the company said in an e-mail response. "As the EEOC notes, Tyson’s agreement to provide notice of the process in writing is an “extraordinary step” as it goes beyond the requirements set out by law and the EEOC’s own regulations. Tyson has already been providing the protocol orally, however, as part of its agreement with the EEOC, Tyson’s Sedalia plant will now provide the protocol in writing as well. 

"Tyson Foods is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or Veteran status," the statement concluded. 

Still requiring approval by US District Judge Nanette Laughrey, the consent decree settling the suit also provides for injunctive relief, including training to individuals involved in the assessment procedure, posting notification to employees and compliance reporting to the EEOC.