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One-eyed oil rig worker wins disability ruling


A federal judge has ordered an oil drilling company to pay $245,600 to an Alaskan oil rig worker who is blind in one eye for refusing to hire him, following an eight-day trial, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Thursday.

The agency said Houston-based Parker Drilling Co. withdrew a job offer to Kevin McDowell, an experienced oil rig worker, in 2010 because he had no vision in his left eye.

The EEOC said Mr. McDowell had lost his sight in the eye as a child, and had never found it a hindrance during a 37-year career working various positions on the oil rig floor.

The agency said Mr. McDowell had previously worked at Parker Drilling from 1978-1982, but after offering him a job in January 2010, the company withdrew the offer, stating his monocular vision disqualified him for the position.

The EEOC charged Parker with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. A jury in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, Alaska, found the company liable and awarded Mr. McDowell $15,000 in compensatory damages for emotional pain and distress. U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason then ordered the company to pay another $230,600 in back pay.

“This is the first EEOC case ever to go to trial in Alaska,” EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said in a statement. “A unanimous eight-person jury believed in Kevin McDowell and rejected Parker Drilling's defense that he posed a 'direct threat' based on safety.”

The company said in a statement that it “prides itself on its commitment to equal employment opportunities and to the safety of all personnel and the environments where we work.”

The company said it offered a job to the man contingent on a medical exam, and withdrew the offer based on the physician’s opinion that “the claimant could not safely perform the essential job functions of the available rig position.”

“While disappointed in the jury’s verdict and the award of damages, Parker is pleased the court recognized Parker Drilling’s commitment to equal employment opportunities and it appreciates the efforts of the court and the jury,” the company said in the statement.

In April, an Oklahoma oil drilling company reached a $400,000 settlement with the EEOC in a case in which it was charged with systemic sex discrimination.

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