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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued an Oklahoma-based oil and gas drilling company for declining to hire potential employees based on age or previous history of filing workers comp claims.
Purcell, Oklahoma-based Horizontal Well Drillers violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act when it “engaged in a pattern or practice of failing to hire qualified job applicants for drilling rig positions because of their disabilities, perceived disabilities and/or record of disabilities as indicated by their workers compensation claim or disability pension history,” according to the lawsuit filed by the EEOC on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.
Horizontal Well Drillers’ online application requested information related to applicants’ age and health history, including whether they have ever filed for or received workers comp or a disability pension for an illness or injury, according to the lawsuit. Company staff processing these applications allegedly highlighted the applicants’ responses on age, comp history, medical history and oil field experience.
The company routinely engaged a third-party vendor to perform a workers’ comp background search on all applicants before scheduled interviews and before conditional offers of employment were made, according to the lawsuit.
“Horizontal Well Drillers’ preference and policy was to not hire applicants with a history of workers’ compensation injuries or claims,” the lawsuit stated.
In 2013, Stephan Mayfield applied for a drilling rig position with Horizontal Well Drillers and spoke to an employee who was excited about his drilling experience, but his application indicated he had a previous work-related injury covered by workers’ comp insurance and he was never interviewed for a position.
“Mr. Mayfield’s previous injury — a fractured thumb suffered in 2009 while working on a drilling rig — did not affect his ability to continue working on drilling rigs, which he did approximately one week after his injury,” the lawsuit stated.
The lawsuit also seeks relief for Wilbert Glover, an applicant the company forced to undergo an allegedly unlawful post-job-offer medical exam and then withdrew his employment offer based on information it learned from the exam.
The lawsuit seeks pay and liquidated, compensatory and punitive damages for Mr. Glover and others not hired because of the company’s employment practices, as well as injunctive relief designed to prevent and address future discrimination based on age or disability and to bring the company into compliance with federal law.
"Excluding qualified workers because of their age or because they were previously injured on the job is not only illegal, it is bad business," Andrea Baran, regional attorney for EEOC's St. Louis District, said in a statement on Wednesday.
"Using stereotypes about age and disabilities to screen out applicants for high paying oil field jobs cannot be tolerated,” James Neely Jr., director of EEOC's St. Louis district office, said in the statement. “Hiring qualified people with experience and ability makes sense. Refusing to hire such people because of their age or previous work-related injuries does not."
“Horizontal Well Drillers does not discriminate against applicants or employees based on age, disability, race or any other factor," a spokesman said in an emailed statement. "We’re confident this will be proven in the days and weeks ahead. Given that this is a legal matter, we will not be commenting further.”
A supervisor’s comment about making way for a younger generation was an “open declaration of bias,” says a federal appeals court in reinstating an age discrimination lawsuit filed by a terminated New York Metropolitan Transit Authority worker.