PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 5, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Nearly a decade after Ronald Jantz, a deaf employee of the Social Security Administration, filed a class action claim against his employer alleging discrimination in promotions of employees with disabilities, the parties today jointly announce that the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has preliminarily approved a class-wide settlement designed to make sweeping improvements to policies and processes impacting the careers of employees with disabilities at the Social Security Administration. The Social Security Administration, with approximately 60,000 current employees, is one of the largest federal employers of employees with disabilities. The class action settlement will also provide monetary relief to employees with "targeted disabilities." Targeted disabilities are a subset of disabilities that the EEOC, as a matter of policy, has identified for special emphasis, and include deafness, blindness, missing extremities, partial or complete paralysis, epilepsy, severe intellectual disability, psychiatric disability, and dwarfism. With no finding of wrongdoing or discrimination, the parties set aside their differences and devoted their energy to creating a dynamic package of relief and enhancements for past and current SSA employees.
Specifically, the Settlement Agreement includes a package of extensive programmatic changes that are designed to retain and support employees with disabilities and to broadly enhance the opportunities for career success and advancement of such employees. These programmatic changes include major revisions to SSA's reasonable accommodation processes, technology processes, training content, and provision of assistive supports for Agency employees with disabilities. The reasonable accommodation changes, in particular, will create a new centralized office where a multidisciplinary team of specialists will promptly and expertly handle requests that do not lend themselves to ready approval by a first-line manager.
In addition to the sweeping package of programmatic changes, the Settlement Agreement also establishes a separate fund of $9.98 million for the payment of claims to eligible class members, as well as Class Counsel's legal fees and expenses, and payments to Mr. Jantz and the other class agents, as well as administrative costs.
Prior to settlement, this case had a protracted history. In 2008, the EEOC certified the matter for treatment on a class-wide basis, approving the request by Mr. Jantz and four other proposed class agents to represent all current and former Social Security Administration employees with targeted disabilities who applied for a promotion and made a "best qualified list" without being selected on one or more occasions since August 23, 2003. The timeframe of the class definition gave the case an eleven-year reach at the time of settlement. The Office of Federal Operations (the EEOC's appellate body) affirmed the Administrative Judge's class certification ruling in 2010, and the Administrative Judge subsequently denied the Agency's motion to decertify the case in light of the Supreme Court's 2011 decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, a seminal ruling in class action employment law. The parties then successfully mediated their dispute with the assistance of retired United States Magistrate Judge Diane Welsh in Philadelphia. On October 30, 2014, the Administrative Judge granted preliminary approval to the class action settlement.
Berger & Montague, P.C. partner Shanon J. Carson, who represents Mr. Jantz and the other class members, expressed pleasure that "SSA was willing to work with us to settle this case that has been pending for many years." He added that "we are especially proud that through our intense negotiations, SSA has agreed to implement extensive changes to its policies and procedures that are intended to transform the way that U.S. federal agencies handle reasonable accommodations and career training and development, and we are pleased that many members of the class will be able to experience those changes during their tenure at the Agency. Commissioner Colvin is to be commended for her efforts toward making SSA a model employer of people with disabilities."
Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin likewise applauded the Settlement Agreement reached by the Agency and Class Counsel, stating that "the resolution of this longstanding dispute reaffirms our steadfast commitment to a talented, diverse workforce. By ensuring that our employees have a path to career advancement, we strengthen our capacity to fulfill our mission and meet the needs of the public we serve."
Social Security Administration is represented by its Office of the General Counsel. In addition to being represented by Shanon Carson and Sarah Schalman-Bergen of Berger & Montague, P.C., the Settlement Class is also represented by Daniel Goldstein and Brooke Lierman of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP; Larry Paradis and Christine Chuang of Disability Rights Advocates; and Todd Schneider and Joshua Konecky of Schneider Wallace Cottrell Konecky & Wotkyns LLP.
For further information about the settlement visit www.ssadisabilityclassaction.com or contact:
SOURCE Berger & Montague, P.C.