The case of Feldman v. Olin, heard recently by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, deals with an issue that almost every employer confronts at some point during the course of business, which is reasonable accommodations that must be made for employees with disabilities.
Our Boston employment attorneys have represented clients on both sides of the aisle. On one hand, workers who have a disability must, when possible, be afforded the opportunity to continue to work and be productive members of society. On the other hand, employers sometimes have little flexibility in offering those opportunities, depending on the type of work required.
In this case, the appellate court determined that the district court had erred in finding that the employer, Olin, had complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In fact, the appellate court found, the company was liable for damages to the plaintiff, and as such, reversed the earlier verdict and remanded the case back to the lower court to determine appropriate sanctions against Olin.
According to court documents, the plaintiff worked as a tractor operator during the day shift at the manufacturing company. The plaintiff had previously been diagnosed as having sleep apnea and fibromyalgia. The former is a sleep disorder characterized by interruption in sleep patterns caused by abnormal breathing. The latter is a condition in which an individual has pain throughout the body and tenderness in joints, muscles and soft tissues.
As such, doctors had advised the plaintiff to continue working his regular daytime shifts with no overtime. This was not an issue until the company, for various reasons, was required to re-align its workforce. This meant that the plaintiff had to work day, evening and night shifts, as well as overtime. The plaintiff contended he tried to do this for a time, but in the end, found that his medical condition prevented him from continuing this schedule. When he informed Olin of his medical restriction, he was laid off soon thereafter. Olin contended it didn’t place him in another position because none were available.
He was eventually brought back on when another day shift position opened up.
Still, the plaintiff filed suit alleging that the company had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12111. He also alleged that he was retaliated against once he did return to work. He additionally alleged age discrimination, but that was not an issue in the appeal.
The district court had found that the plaintiff had not adequately proven that he was disabled, and summarily dismissed all of his claims. The appellate court reversed this action, finding that the district court rejected the plaintiff’s claims too hastily.
The appellate court cited evidence provided by the plaintiff’s doctor, showing that a sleep study in 2007 determined the employee’s sleep efficiency (or the amount he actually slept during a given night) was at 48 percent, which garners a “very poor” rating.
To succeed with a claim under ADA, the plaintiff has to show that he or she is disabled, that he or she is otherwise qualified to perform essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations and that the employer took adverse job action because of the disability OR failed to provide reasonable accommodation.
The appellate court found that the company failed to, at any point, offer a reasonable accommodation to the employee with regard to his disability.
Further, the company had alleged that the plaintiff had failed to prove his disability, which required him to show that he had an actual disability that significantly limited him in one or more major life activities; that he has a record of such impairment and that the employer knew and had record of that impairment.
The appellate court determined the plaintiff had met that threshold.