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EEOC alleges Olive Garden asked illegal questions during a job interview

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Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit Monday alleging that a manager at GMRI, Inc., which does business as Olive Garden, asked a job candidate illegal questions about his disability and declined to hire the worker because of information learned from those questions. The EEOC said it first tried to reach a pre-litigation settlement with the company before filing the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. 
  • During an interview for a busser position, the general manager allegedly asked the candidate about his use of a cane, what was “wrong with” him and how “bad” his disability was, the EEOC said. 
  • “The EEOC is committed to enforcing the [Americans with Disabilities Act] and ensuring that employers are held accountable when they refuse to hire job applicants because of their disabilities, such as discriminatory decisions based on myths, fears and stereotypes about applicants’ disabilities or their use of assistive technologies, medical treatments and other measures related to those disabilities,” EEOC Philadelphia District Office Director Jamie Williamson said.

Dive Insight:

The ADA prohibits employment discrimination because of a disability or a perceived disability.  It also outlaws pre-offer questions that are likely to reveal a disability or the nature and extent of a disability, the EEOC said. 

“The ADA mandates that employers refrain from subjecting job applicants to any questions that are likely to reveal the existence, nature or extent of a disability prior to giving those applicants genuine, conditional offers of employment,” EEOC Philadelphia District Office Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence said. “Employers who ask such illegal questions or refuse to hire applicants because of their responses to such questions are violating federal law and will be held accountable.”

The commission has said in previous guidance that employers may ask limited pre-offer questions about reasonable accommodations if they reasonably believe that the applicant may need accommodation because of an obvious or voluntarily disclosed disability. Employers may not, however, ask questions about the nature or severity of the disability pre-offer, according to the commission.

The EEOC is tasked with enforcing the ADA and sues employers for various alleged violations, such as for failing to offer an accommodation or firing an employee because of their disability.

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