RI ACLU Files Discrimination Complaint Against North Kingstown Shipbuilder

January 7, 2009 12:00 am

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The RI ACLU has filed a discrimination complaint against Senesco Marine, a large ship construction and repair facility in North Kingstown, claiming that the company is engaged in a “blatant violation of state and federal laws protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.” The complaint was filed yesterday with the R.I. Commission for Human Rights by RI ACLU volunteer attorney Michael Feldhuhn.

According to the complaint, Senesco’s employment application form, which is also posted on its web site, requires all job applicants to attest that they are “physically and mentally capable of performing the essential job duties of the above 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 notes: “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.”

The complaint also alleges that Senesco’s application form falsely warns applicants that if it turns out that they do require reasonable accommodation due to a disability, they will forfeit their right to workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured on the job. The complaint calls this warning a “deliberate and blatant misrepresentation of applicable law [that] is intended to deter persons with disabilities from applying for a job if they would require reasonable accommodation.”

The ACLU first wrote Senesco officials back on November 3rd to express concerns about the legality of the company’s employment application form. Despite the passage of more than two months, Senesco has taken no corrective action, prompting the filing of the complaint. The complaint seeks remedies under the state Fair Employment Practices Act and Civil Rights of People with Disabilities Act, including injunctive relief, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.

RI volunteer attorney Feldhuhn said today: “Senesco’s application form is an outrageous violation of the rights of people with disabilities. I am hopeful that the Commission will take favorable action to address this serious violation.”

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