Disabled Foreign Service Applicants Win $38M Settlement

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Disabled Foreign Service Applicants Win $38M Settlement

Disabled Foreign Service Applicants Win $38M Settlement

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission judge signed off on a $37.5 million settlement between the U.S. Department of State and a class of would-be foreign service officers with disabilities, ending a long fight over the department’s requirement that all applicants get a medical clearance saying they can serve anywhere in the world.

The agreement does away with the U.S. Department of State’s requirement that all applicants for career foreign service roles get a strict medical clearance. (Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency)

Administrative Judge R. Colin Power issued an order Friday granting final approval of the agreement in the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office.

In addition to the hefty payout to the 244-member class, the agreement revises the State Department’s medical clearance policy, doing away with the requirement that all applicants for career foreign service roles get a strict medical clearance that said they had “no identifiable medical condition” that would affect their service anywhere across the globe.

“The resolution in the matter is extraordinarily beneficial for not only the 244 class members but future career candidates of the U.S. Foreign Service with disabilities, records of disabilities, and perceived disabilities,” Judge Power said.

The settlement, which was first reached in December 2022, ends well over a decade of litigation in the EEOC’s federal-sector complaint process, which is separate from how that agency handles charges of discrimination against private employers.

Class member Doering Meyer, who has multiple sclerosis, first filed an internal complaint alleging disability discrimination in 2007. The EEOC then granted class certification in 2010 for those who say they were discriminated against when they were denied Class 1 medical certifications, according to the settlement order.

Meyer, one of the lead class members, is currently serving as a foreign service officer in N’Djamena, Chad, which Schwartz in a news release called “one of the toughest posts in the world.”

The award amount comes out to a net recovery of more than $100,000 per class member, Judge Power noted. Additionally, as part of the settlement nearly 100 applicants received conditional job offers, while another eight were given another chance to apply.

The settlement essentially scraps the whole prior policy, which had deemed applicants with any disability “too risky” to send abroad. That applied even if they could have served in most if not all available posts without any problems or with some accommodations, said class counsel Bryan Schwartz, who called it “groundbreaking” and the “most significant result” of his career.

“This equitable relief includes redefining ‘worldwide availability,’ and changes the agency’s pre-employment medical examination process, providing applicants with disabilities the opportunity to engage in an interactive process to assess whether they are able to meet the applicable medical qualification standards with a reasonable accommodation,” the settlement said.

Now, the State Department must take into consideration the assessments of the applicants’ doctors and the applicants themselves, and provide reasonable accommodations for their disabilities, Schwartz explained in a phone interview Monday.

For example, he said, if an applicant’s disability made them sensitive to humidity, they could still serve at a post in a humid environment such as Bangkok, Thailand, with an accommodation like an air-conditioned office.

In a news release Monday, the State Department said the changes will help further its commitment to hiring employees who reflect the nation’s diversity.

“The revised minimum medical qualification standard will be used only to determine whether an applicant is medically qualified for hire and will not be used to define or limit the universe of posts at which the applicant can serve. There are no other changes to existing qualification standards for Department Foreign Service applicants nor are there any changes to the department’s directed assignment policy for entry level employees,” the release said.

The class is represented by Bryan Schwartz of Bryan Schwartz Law, P.C. and by Gary Gilbert of Gilbert Employment Law PC.

The State Department is represented by Yedidya “Eddie” Cohen, attorney adviser at the Office of the Legal Adviser at the U.S. Department of State.

The case is Doering Meyer and Ryan Gibson et al. v. Secretary, U.S. Department of State, EEOC case number 531-2015-00092X, at the United States of America Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Philadelphia District Office.

By Amanda Ottaway


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