A class of an estimated 570 current and former employees of the Social Security Administration will receive compensation as part of a settlement in a lawsuit alleging they were denied promotions on the basis of their disabilities.
An administrative law judge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission granted preliminary approval of the settlement October 30.
“Many disabled employees at SSA have been held back from contributing fully to the important work SSA does because of discrimination and attitudinal barriers,” Ronald Jantz, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a news release. “With this Settlement Agreement, SSA demonstrates its commitment to ensuring equal opportunity employment for all employees by empowering all employees to perform their jobs well and rewarding those disabled employees that are qualified for promotion.”
The lawsuit stems from a series of complaints filed with the EEOC starting in 2005. Despite being frequently placed on a “Best Qualified List,” these plaintiffs argued they were routinely denied promotional opportunities within the agency on the basis of having “targeted disabilities.” These disabilities include “deafness, blindness, missing extremities, partial paralysis, complete paralysis, convulsive disorders, mental retardation, mental illness, and genetic and physical conditions affecting limbs and/or spine,” according to the settlement.
In 2008, the complaints were joined and certified as a class-action lawsuit by an administrative law judge. The SSA moved to have the class decertified in 2011, in response to the Supreme Court’s Wal-Mart v. Dukes decision, which made it more difficult to file class-action lawsuits. The administrative law judge denied this motion in March 2014, allowing the class to proceed.
Under the terms of the settlement, the SSA will set aside about $6.6 million, of the $9.98 million in compensation, to compensate employees with targeted disabilities who on, or after, August 22, 2003 were placed on the Best Qualified List,” but nonetheless denied promotions, according to the Baltimore Sun. The rest will go toward legal and administrative costs.
The SSA will also create a new centralized office to oversee requests for reasonable accommodations, improve trainings and the availability of accessible technology, and establish an oversight board to monitor the plan’s implementation.
The plaintiffs were repsented by Shanon Carson and Sarah Schalman-Bergen of Berger & Montague, P.C., Daniel Goldstein and Brooke Lierman of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP, Larry Paradis and Christine Chuang of Disability Rights Advocates, and Todd Schneider and Joshua Konecky of Schneider, Wallace, Cottrell, Konecky & Wotkyn.