Agency Finds Probable Cause To Believe That North Kingstown Shipbuilder Has Violated Anti-Bias Laws

November 9, 2009 12:00 am

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Responding to a complaint filed by the R.I. ACLU in January, the R.I. Commission for Human Rights has found “probable cause” to believe that Senesco Marine, a large ship construction and repair facility in North Kingstown, has violated state anti-discrimination laws designed to prevent job bias against individuals with disabilities.

When the ACLU filed its complaint, Senesco’s employment application form required all job applicants to attest that they were “physically and mentally capable of performing the essential job duties of the position for which [they] have applied” and that they “have no need for changes or adjustments in the essential duties of the job in order to allow me to meet the demands of the position.”

However, the ACLU complaint noted: “By well-established law, an employer must provide an employee with disabilities ‘reasonable accommodations’ that would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. In purpose and effect, Senesco’s attestation operates to bar persons with disabilities from applying for a job unless they first waive their legal right to request reasonable accommodation.”

More than two months after the ACLU first advised the company about the form’s problematic nature, and about a week after ACLU volunteer attorney Michael Feldhuhn filed a formal complaint, Senesco revised the application. However, the ACLU claims that the new form is just as problematic. It states that Senesco does not discriminate on the basis of a “presence of a non-job-related medical condition.” But, as the ACLU’s complaint first noted, companies generally have an obligation to reasonably accommodate an otherwise- qualified employee’s medical conditions, even if job related.

As a result of its finding, the Human Rights Commission will now continue to investigate the case. The ACLU’s complaint seeks various remedies under the state Fair Employment Practices Act and Civil Rights of People with Disabilities Act.

RI ACLU volunteer attorney Feldhuhn said today: “I’m very pleased with the Commission’s finding, but disappointed by Senesco’s continued intransigence.”

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