A settlement has been finalized between the U.S. Department of State and more than 200 class action members who alleged that the agency’s Foreign Service medical clearance policy illegally discriminated against job candidates with disabilities.
The case, which began in 2006, claimed that the department’s “worldwide availability” hiring rule, which required Foreign Service officer candidates to be able to work at any of the State Department’s 270 overseas posts without a need for ongoing medical treatment, unfairly precluded applicants with disabilities from employment.
“In the past, people with disabilities were stereotyped as unable to serve their country in the Foreign Service,” said Bryan Schwartz, lead class counsel, in a statement. “They were considered too risky to send abroad. They were, in fact, able and willing to serve with distinction. Through this important case, we have given them that opportunity.”
On March 17, the the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approved the agreement after the department agreed to settle in December, Federal Times previously reported.
The class applies to qualified Foreign Service applicants who were denied or delayed employment from Oct. 7, 2006 onward because the State Department deemed them ineligible of worldwide availability due to their disability.
“The U.S. Department of State is pleased to announce changes to its minimum medical qualification standard for career Foreign Service applicants to further advance its commitment to hire a workforce representative of all segments of society and in support of the secretary’s modernization agenda,” a spokesperson told Federal Times.
The department has been ordered by the settlement to pay nearly $38 million, which amounts to more than $100K net per class member, on average. The agency is also expected to revise its medical clearance policy and furnish 100 immediate job opportunities to class members.
The law firm representing class agents said future applicants can be deemed “worldwide available” simply by being eligible for duty at the best-resourced posts, with or without reasonable accommodations, and in consultation their doctors. These changes will provide persons with disabilities with more opportunities to pursue Foreign Service careers, the department spokesperson said.
“The settlement agreement provides for valuable equitable relief, including changes to the agency’s policies and procedures – reflecting a commitment by the agency to inclusive workforce policies and hiring practices that reflect the full diversity of the American people,” wrote the EEOC judge, R. Colin Power, in his decision. “Moreover, the relief provided to the class members is extensive and meaningful, not only in providing an historic monetary settlement of $37.5 million, but also in providing new career opportunities to many of the class members.”
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.