Best Ohio Disability Discrimination Attorney Answer: What should I do if my boss is refusing to accommodate my disability? What is a reasonable accommodation for my disability on my job? Am I a qualified employee under the ADA?
Federal laws, including the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) in addition to Ohio statute R.C. § 4112.02(A) were enacted to prevent discrimination or retaliation by employers on the basis of an employee’s actual or perceived disability. In 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a trial court decision in favor of an AutoZone employee whose request for a reasonable accommodation for his disability was denied by his employer.
In a disability discrimination case against AutoZone Inc., the appellate court affirmed a jury’s award of $424,000 in compensatory damages, $9,000 in costs and injunctive relief requiring AutoZone to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees. The case began after an AutoZone employee, John Shepherd, repeatedly requested to be excused from mopping floors based on his physician’s diagnosis that the mopping could aggravate his condition. Overall, Shepherd was an above average employee who consistently was a top performer in his position. Despite his requests to be allowed to forgo the duty, AutoZone continued to insist that Shepherd perform this task. The mopping eventually led to Shepherd sustaining further injury, and separation from employment at AutoZone.
To prove his disability discrimination claim, Shepherd had to show that he was a qualified employee with a disability, his employer was aware of the disability, and that AutoZone failed to accommodate his disability in a reasonable manner. Shepherd provided evidence meeting all of these requirements, and, Shepherd’s sales statistics were greater to his other employees in the same position, and his managers, all testified that Shepherd was well above average with respect to the sales portion of his part time sales manager position.
So how did AutoZone defend this case? Although it seems hard to believe, AutoZone argued that the mopping was an essential function of his part time sales manager job. AutoZone attempted to claim that Shepherd’s inability to mop prevented him from being a qualified employee with a disability, but the jury did not buy it.
In regards to the verdict, the Court reasoned that once a jury makes a finding, the appellate court must view the facts in favor of the prevailing party. If the unsuccessful party seeks to set aside the verdict, they bear a heavy burden to show that the decision was not one that a rational jury could have determined. In the end, the Court affirmed everything but the amount of punitive damages, reducing the total from $500,000.00 to $200,000.00.
The court of appeals held:
As much as 80% of Shepherd’s job was sales-related. The other 20% of his job included the tasks that created problems for him, such as stocking shelves and mopping floors. Shepherd testified that he was able to devise his own methods for lifting and carrying. He was not, however, able to devise a work-around for mopping floors, which is the focus of AutoZone’s contention that he was not qualified.
AutoZone’s corporate representative testified that mopping floors was an essential function of the job of anyone who worked in the store, including the parts sales manager. AutoZone asserts that this testimony was undisputed and must therefore be accepted at face value.
That is incorrect. This evidence came from a corporate representative, and a corporate representative is hardly a disinterested witness. The jury was entitled to view her testimony with an eye for bias. In addition, she had been hired by the company three years after Shepherd had left AutoZone employment, so her knowledge of in-store policy and practice during the time period in question was certainly not based on her own knowledge, yet another reason the jury was entitled to discredit her testimony.
The question boils down to what, if any, other evidence there was that mopping floors was an essential function of the position of parts sales manager. It is true that the employer’s judgment is one factor that a jury may consider in deciding whether a function is essential. The employer’s judgment, however, is not dispositive, and as demonstrated above, the jury in this case rejected that judgment.
[The plaintiff] introduced evidence—uncontradicted (and in some cases conceded) by AutoZone—that mopping was a chore that could be delegated by the parts sales manager to other employees. AutoZone also agreed that there were always two employees in the store at any given time. These two facts certainly cut against the conclusion that mopping was an essential function of Shepherd’s job. As the Seventh Circuit noted in DePaoli v. Abbott Laboratories, 140 F.3d 668, 674 (7th Cir. 1998), it is proper to consider whether the employer actually requires all employees in a particular position to perform the allegedly essential function. AutoZone may well have thought it essential that the floors be mopped, but that is not the same thing as saying that it was essential that John Shepherd be the one to do the mopping.
The evidence also showed that the amount of time spent mopping was marginal, perhaps an hour a week. In some situations, that fact might not be dispositive, such as where a particular chore can only be completed by an employee with very specific skills. Obviously, that is not the case with a routine and unskilled task such as mopping floors.
Although not every case results in this type of outcome, it is still recommended that an employee seek legal advice if he or she believes that an employer is failing to accommodate an actual or perceived disability.
Having to live with a disability is difficult enough without worrying about the effect it may have on your job. If you are disabled or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. The best option is not to wait. the Spitz law firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment.
The materials available at the top of this page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “how do I get a work accommodation for my disability?”, “am I disabled under the ADA?”, “what should I do if…” or “can my boss fired me for …”, it would be best for you to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to disability discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of the Spitz law firm, attorney, Brian Spitz or any individual attorney.