Business news | Railroad Workers Retaliate After Being Disqualified for Disabilities

Business news | Railroad Workers Retaliate After Being Disqualified for Disabilities

Union Pacific faces the possibility of hundreds more lawsuits due to the removal of personnel with health disorders due to safety concerns. The railroad has already lost three lawsuits over this practice.

Terrence Hersey needed months of rehabilitation to regain his ability to speak in whole sentences and walk after suffering a stroke in 2015 while returning home from his train work. Before his doctors eventually gave him the all-clear to return to work without any restrictions, he had to relearn how to get in and out of a car and how to dress.

For Union Pacific, such a suggestion was insufficient. The railroad determined that Hersey was unsuited for his position supervising inspections of stationary railcars in Chicago due to the possibility that he may become handicapped after analyzing his records but without a medical check.

“I got a doctor’s clearance, and Union Pacific did not do any sort of physical examination or anything on me. Hersey remarked, “I felt tossed to the side.

Hersey is one of the hundreds of Union Pacific workers who are suing the government after being fired due to health difficulties. Even while they only make up a small portion of the railroad’s more than 30,000 employees, their claims may cost Union Pacific money and impede the firm’s efforts to fill a large number of unfilled positions at a time when all of the country’s railways are experiencing a manpower shortage.

More than 200 more complaints are pending with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, many of which are likely to develop into litigation. Former Union Pacific employees have already filed at least 15 additional federal lawsuits. Seven other cases were resolved.

Former employees initially intended to bring the cases as a class action, but in 2020 a federal appeals court ruled that each complaint must be brought individually. Now that the first few cases have gone to trial, verdicts totaling more than $1 million have been handed down in all three.

The EEOC can’t comment on whether it is looking into claims against Union Pacific, according to a spokesperson. Jim Kaster, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, asserted that the EEOC is still looking into the practices of the railroad.

Former employees initially intended to bring the cases as a class action, but in 2020 a federal appeals court ruled that each complaint must be brought individually. Now that the first few cases have gone to trial, verdicts totaling more than $1 million have been handed down in all three.

The EEOC can’t comment on whether it is looking into claims against Union Pacific, according to a spokesperson. Jim Kaster, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, asserted that the EEOC is still looking into the practices of the railroad.

The top-down planning that went into this case is what makes it so egregious, according to Kaster, who assisted with the class-action lawsuit. It is one thing for dishonest management to discriminate against people with disabilities in the workplace. This situation differs from others since the employer singled out people with disabilities and prohibited them from employment without even having them examined and frequently without having spoken to them.

According to the railroad, between 2014 and 2018, 7,700 personnel had to go through a “fitness-for-duty” review. This was stated by UP in arguments in the original class-action case. Unworkable limitations may have forced some of those workers out, but according to plaintiffs’ attorneys, almost 2,000 persons were subject to restrictions that prevented them from working for at least two years, if not permanently.

According to Union Pacific standards, working for the railroad is risky and anyone who has even a minor chance of experiencing “sudden incapacitation” shouldn’t do so. The railroad has fiercely defended its policy, claiming that its stringent guidelines are intended to shield its employees and the general public from harm risks or environmental damage if someone experiences a medical emergency that results in a derailment or other mishap.

The railroad attempts to create an inclusive workplace, but according to Union Pacific spokeswoman Robynn Tysver, “the Americans with Disabilities Act does not decrease Union Pacific’s dedication and obligation to maintain a safe work environment.”

By our medical standards and obligations under the ADA, Union Pacific medical personnel who have a thorough understanding of a railroad’s particular operational requirements evaluate employees’ medical conditions to see if they prevent them from safely performing their essential job duties, according to Tysver. Additionally, to help with medical reviews, Union Pacific frequently hires outside medical consultants.

However, former employees allege that Union Pacific frequently ignores medical advice and makes its own decisions even when a doctor has cleared a person for work.

Union Pacific may be subject to more than $350 million in damages as a result of the litigation, in addition to hefty legal costs. If government regulators find fault with the railroad, they may also impose further fines. The cases may not have much of an impact on the company’s bottom line given that it recently announced a $1.84 billion profit, but they may increase unhappiness among its current workforce. The fact that UP employees haven’t received a raise since 2019 and that the company altered its attendance standards, making it more difficult to request time off, has already angered them.

Federal law places a $300,000 cap on most damages in these disability cases other than lost wages, but plaintiffs’ attorneys argue that even if the fine is reduced, the large judgments, like the $44 million decision they won in Wisconsin last year, send a clear message that Union Pacific’s policy is flawed. In the Wisconsin case, a conductor with hearing loss was made to leave his job despite years of successful employment because he failed a hearing test while donning the newly mandated hearing protection for the corporation. The railroad would not contemplate using other safety equipment.

All of the claims contend that Union Pacific discriminates against people with disabilities by barring applicants when they disclose specific medical problems, even though those diseases have little to do with an applicant’s ability to do their jobs safely. Since 2014, the Omaha, Nebraska-based railroad has mandated that employees report any time they experience a seizure, develop a cardiac disease, or develop diabetes that requires insulin treatment. In addition, Union Pacific routinely places restrictions on workers who fail a color vision test it created and rejects hiring anyone who utilizes a prosthetic leg, regardless of how competent they may be.

When a worker or their manager reports a health issue, Union Pacific places them on leave and requests that they provide medical records so that railroad doctors can assess their appropriateness for employment. Plaintiffs claim that Union Pacific frequently makes decisions without having medical professionals examine workers and disregards the advice of medical professionals who are treating patients and have given them the all-clear to resume their employment.

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