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Advocacy Spotlight: Blazing a Trail

Fighting for FairnessSam never expected his diabetes to what kept him from getting a new sales job with a company he really wanted to work for.  But after multiple interviews and filling out all the necessary paperwork, a physical examination was the last thing he needed to do before he started the job.  Little did he know that an outdated standard developed in the 1970s for commercial drivers would be the thing that stopped the process in its tracks. 

The company told Sam that he must pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical.  The DOT physical qualification standard, which disqualifies an individual who uses insulin to treat diabetes unless he or she receives a waiver, applies to interstate commercial drivers.  But Sam was hired for an outside sales position, a job that required that he drive a company vehicle but not operate a commercial vehicle. 

Presented with a barrier to his employment, Sam set out to educate the company about diabetes and its misguided policy.  “I hope you realize that I’m doing this to help the company and grow with the team, nothing else” Sam explained.  “This will also help you in the future as a recruiter, and help the company move forward as an industry leader.  I am still looking forward to being part of the family.”

The company held firm to its position that requiring all outside sales employees to pass a DOT physical was the only way to ensure safe operation of company vehicles, stating “We are confident that reasonable qualifications established by the DOT for the operation of commercial vehicles may be properly applied to the operation of company automobiles.  The interest is the same to protect the driving public and to reduce potential liability to the employer for allowing an unqualified individual to operate a company vehicle.”

Undeterred, Sam contacted the American Diabetes Association for assistance and was connected with volunteer attorney Kathy Butler, an experienced employment lawyer and member of the Association’s Legal Advocacy Subcommittee.  Unable to resolve the problem through education and negotiation, Kathy and Sam soon filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). 

In early October, Sam’s case settled at mediation with the company agreeing to return him to the job he was first given eight months earlier.  Due in large part to Sam’s professionalism in dealing with the company and his willingness to educate those who needed to better understand diabetes, the company also agreed to drop their discriminatory policy and make a generous donation to the ADA. 

“It was such a pleasure to represent Sam,” stated Butler.  “He represents the best of America.  He stood up for himself respectfully but tenaciously.  He educated this company that everyone should be judged on the basis of their abilities, not on the basis of a medical diagnosis. What a win-win for this company to have an employee like this on staff!” 

Sam credits his wife for helping him arrive at this happy ending.  “I owe everything to my wife,” Sam said shortly after his case settled.  “Without her, I would have never had the motivation to find such a great career opportunity and when the DOT problem arose she calmly suggested that I keep a level head and contact the American Diabetes Association.  The ADA then referred me to Kathy Butler, who told me that she would be happy to help me stand up for my rights.” 

Today, Sam is looking forward to beginning his new job and moving forward with his life.  “Now my wife and I can raise a family and rest better at night knowing that we helped blaze a trail for everyone living with diabetes.”

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