EEOC forces Transport America to accommodate service animals
October 8, 2019
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has settled a dispute between a trucker and Transport America after the company required him to pay a fee for his service animal.
On Oct. 2, the EEOC announced a resolution of a suit against Eagan, Minn.-based Transport America. The suit alleged that Transport America required one of its drivers to pay fees to have a service animal in his truck, despite the fact the dog “was required as a reasonable accommodation for the driver’s anxiety,” according to an EEOC news release.
Court documents reveal that the driver suffered from social anxiety disorder and depression. Mental health issues limited activities such as interacting with others, sleeping, brain function and thinking. The service animal assisted the driver in coping with the disabilities.
In addition to aiding with coping mechanisms, the service animal also warned the driver of impending panic attacks.
With a medical diagnosis, the driver requested to have the service animal with him on the job. According to court documents, Transport America refused the request, referring to the company’s dog policy.
Transport America’s dog policy allowed truck drivers to have dogs in the truck only under certain conditions. Also, the policy requires them to pay a $400 fee and an additional $3 a week, the complaint states. The policy also prohibited truck drivers from having their dog present during orientation or at service facilities.
According to the lawsuit filed in a Minnesota federal court, the driver filed a charged with the EEOC claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The allegations included Transport America restricting the service animal from its property. Furthermore, the company allegedly required the driver to keep the service animal in a kennel up to seven hours.
In March 2018, the EEOC invited Transport America to participate in informal procedures to resolve the problem. Unfortunately, an agreement that satisfied both parties was never met. The company refused to modify its policies to remove fees and restrictions for a service animal. The EEOC believed that such accommodations would not have posed an undue hardship on Transport America.
Eventually, Transport America was ordered to pay the driver $22,500 after a lawsuit was filed. Additionally, the company will revise its policies to make them more accommodating to qualified employees with disabilities who require a service animal. More specifically, qualified employees will not pay a fee to have the animal.
“This is a timely reminder to employers that it isn’t enough that they allow service animals to accompany qualified individuals with disabilities,” Julianne Bowman, district director for the EEOC’s Chicago District, said in the news release. “They also must avoid placing any burden on the employee with a disability that is not placed on employees who do not need the accommodation or who do not have animals accompany them.”