Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Employment Case Law Update

It's been a while since I have done an employment case law update, so here's one!:

--Thomas v Penn United Tech, WDPa: Defendant's motion for summary judgment against plaintiff's ADA and state law claims of disability bias, failure to accommodate, hostile work environment and retaliation DENIED. The plaintiff was a Manager before getting injured in a non-work related accident that rendered him a quadriplegic. After the accident he was moved to a different position as a Team Leader and told, inter alia, he could not be a good manager because his legs did not work. Plaintiff then had difficulty traveling between buildings on the work site and injured himself once again while on the job. Defendant attempted to argue that the position switch did not amount to an "adverse employment action," thus plaintiff failed to make out a prima facie case. The district Court held that while “direct economic harm is an important indicator of a tangible adverse employment action, it is not the sine qua non. If an employer's act substantially decreases an employee's earning potential and causes significant disruption in his or her working conditions, a tangible adverse employment action may be found.” Durham Life Ins. Co. v. Evans, 166 F.3d 139, 153 (3d Cir. 1999).

Both parties then disputed the failure to accommodate issue but the Court ultimately held that the plaintiff's numerous requests to make his job easier through a series of accommodations left triable facts.

--Rodriguez v Alcoa Inc, SDTex: Defendant's motion for summary judgment against plaintiff's disability discrimination and failure to accommodate claims GRANTED. Plaintiff was completely deaf in his left ear since birth and has significant hearing loss in his right ear and claimed that he lives a normal life. Oddly, on the Medical and Occupational Health History form, plaintiff failed to acknowledge his hearing impairments. It was not until the physical hearing test that plaintiff revealed his hearing impairments to the employer. The employer instructed plaintiff to come back with hearing aids to take the test again but plaintiff failed to do so and the employer rescinded their job offer. Ultimately the plaintiff's own admissions about how he leads a normal life with almost no difficulty showed he does not have a qualifying disability under the ADA because he is not substantially limited in a major life activity.

Plaintiff also failed in the "regarded as" portion of his disability claim because merely showing the defendant was aware of his hearing impairments was not enough to meet his burden, the Court said. Furthermore, plaintiff's failure to accommodate charge was also dismissed because he failed to include it in his original charge with the EEOC. The Court noted that even if he had included it, it would still fail because the plaintiff does not have a qualified disability.

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