Best Ohio Disability Discrimination Attorney Answer: What can I do if I feel that I have been discriminated against based on my disability at my job? Can I sue if I was fired when I tell my boss I’m disabled? What should I do if I need an accommodation at work for my disability to help me do my job?
At The Spitz Law Firm, LLC, our employment discrimination lawyers are constantly staying on top of legal developments to help disabled employees who faced disability discrimination by bosses, managers and supervisors. As our employment lawyers have blogged about regularly, all employees are protected under Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA“) and Ohio’s R.C. § 4112.02(A) from being discriminated against, retaliated against, or wrongfully terminated by their employers on the basis of their actual or perceived disability. These laws also prohibit employers from making pre-employment, disability-related inquiries of job applicants. (See Can I Be Denied A Job Because Of Prescribed Medications?; Is Alcoholism A Disability Under The ADA?; and Can My Boss Block Deaf Workers From Operating Machinery?)
Moreover, The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who, either with or without such accommodations, are qualified to “perform the essential functions of the employment position.” (See Disability Discrimination: Can I Get A Work Accommodation?; ADA Law: How Do I Get A Disability Accommodation At Work?; Can I Get A Disability Accommodation?; and Top Disability Discrimination Lawyer Reply: Can I Bring A Service Dog To Work As A Disability Accommodation Under The ADA?)
Recently, in Wallace Caldwell v. Omega Apparel Inc., the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee denied an employer’s motion for summary judgment (which is a motion by the employer asking the court to throw the case out before it gets to a jury) regarding an employee’s disability discrimination claim.
The employee, Wallace Caldwell, worked at Omega as a “cutter,” which required him to use a straight knife cutting machine to cut cloth to meet certain quality and measurement specifications. As you can imagine, the employer expected cutters to cut precisely with very small margins of error. One morning, the employee woke up with reduced vision in his right eye, experiencing what he described as “looking through a hole.” When the employee got to work, he made about 20 cuts on his machine within specifications in about an hour. At that point, the employee informed his direct supervisor of his medical issue requested the rest of the day off to go see an eye doctor, who diagnosed an occlusion on the back of the right eye, and suggested that he see a specialist. The employee went immediately to the ophthalmologist, who further diagnosed a retinal occlusion that was possibly caused by a blood clot from a piece of plaque.
The ophthalmologist offered no treatment or cure but told Caldwell that he would “have to get used to and adjusted to [his] depth perception.” The ophthalmologist further offered that several of her other patients “had the same thing” and “carried on their employment.”
When Caldwell returned to work afternoon, he gave a doctor’s note to the Office Manager. Then, about 20 minutes later, the employee was summoned to the Human Resources Manager, where the following occurred:
[W]hen he went to Mr. Glover’s office, he saw Dr. Hudson’s note and a copy the employee’s handbook on the desk. Plaintiff’s claims that Mr. Glover told him, “I don’t have nothing for you” and when Plaintiff asked whether he was being terminated, Mr. Glover stated “call it whatever you want to, but I have nothing for you to do.” Plaintiff further claims that, when he asked whether an exception could be made, Mr. Glover stated, “if I make an exception for you, I have to make an exception for everyone.”
On March 26, 2013, Plaintiff was terminated from his employment with Omega. Plaintiff was given a Separation Notice indicating the reason for the termination was that he was “physically unable to perform the job requirement.”
As to the employee’s disability discrimination claim, the court denied summary judgment, finding that the employer failed to engage in the “interactive process” of determining whether or not employee needed a reasonable accommodation. Specifically, the court held:
Under the ADA “[t]he term `qualified individual’ means an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). The governing regulations indicate that “[t]o determine the appropriate reasonable accommodation [for a given employee,] it may be necessary for the [employer] to initiate an informal, interactive process with the [employee],” in order to “identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability and potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(3). “Accordingly, `[t]he interactive process requires communication and good-faith exploration of possible accommodations.’“ Kleiber v. Honda of Am. Mfg., Inc., 485 F.3d 862, 871 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). “Even though the interactive process is not described in the statute’s text, the interactive process is mandatory, and both parties have a duty to participate in good faith.” Id. (footnote omitted).
“The ADA mandates this process to ensure that employers do not disqualify applicants and employees based on `stereotypes and generalizations about a disability, but based on the actual disability and the effect that disability has on the particular individual’s ability to perform the job.’“ Rorrer v. City of Stow, 743 F.3d 1025, 1040-41 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Keith v. Cnty. of Oakland, 703 F.3d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 2013). “`If this process fails to lead to reasonable accommodation of the disabled employee’s limitations, responsibility will lie with the party that caused the breakdown.’“ Id. (quoting EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 417 F.3d 789, 805 (7th Cir. 2005)).
Here, when the facts are construed in Plaintiff’s favor, a reasonable jury could conclude that Omega wholly failed to engage in an interactive process and failed to make any effort to to determine whether it could reasonably accommodate Plaintiff’s condition. Rather, the facts so construed suggest that within one-half hour of presenting Dr. Hudson’s note, Plaintiff was summoned to the Human Resources Manager’s office and fired. Additionally, his request for an “exception” was summarily dismissed. “Failing to discuss a reasonable accommodation in a meeting in which the employer takes an adverse employment action against an injured employee may demonstrate a lack of good faith, as may “failing to assist an employee in seeking an accommodation[.]” Id.
Importantly, the Court reached the decision to deny summary judgment as to the employee’s ADA claim even though the employer offered Employee a new job in purchasing after his termination. The court reasoned, “whether this position (offering lesser pay) was a reasonable accommodation is a question for the jury, particularly since Omega apparently made no effort to explore whether Plaintiff could perform his job as a cutter without danger to himself or others.”
One of the more fascinating arguments by the employer is that based on subsequent discovery post termination, the employee’s ongoing depth perception problems would have caused it to reach the same conclusion; and that as a result, Caldwell had no damages. The Court rejected this argument as well:
Further, the fact that Plaintiff still has depth perception issues does not alter this conclusion because Omega “cannot now argue, with the benefit of hindsight, that its actions were justified.” Gibson v. Lafayette Manor, Inc., 2007 WL 951473, at * 9 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 27, 2007); see also, Garcia-Ayala v. Lederle Parenterals, Inc., 212 F.3d 638, 655 (1st Cir. 2000) (“the prospect of recovery (or enablement) should be judged not by hindsight, but by what reasonably appears at the time the leave is requested”)
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. Call our Ohio employment law attorneys 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 law.
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