Fowler v. Kohl's Department Stores, Inc., No. 1:07-CV-1197 (GLS/RFT) (N.D.N.Y. 07/16/09).
Ruling: The U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York denied cross-motions for summary judgment in the Americans with Disabilities Act and state discrimination law suit of a former employee of a discount retail store.
What it means:
Exclusivity provisions in workers' compensation laws that prevent employees from suing their employers for negligence in causing work-related injury or illness do not preclude employees from being able to sue their employers for disability discrimination under the ADA or related laws.
A customer service area supervisor for a discount retail store obtained workers' compensation coverage for an on-the-job back injury. Her doctor gave her work restrictions on lifting, bending, twisting and climbing for an indefinite period. The supervisor requested a reprieve from working at the checkout counters as an accommodation for her condition, but her managers insisted it was an essential job function. When the supervisor provided additional medical certification preventing her from performing many of the functions listed in her job description, the store discharged her. She sued under the ADA and state law.
The District Court rejected the store's argument that the disability discrimination claims under the ADA and state discrimination laws were precluded by state workers' compensation law. The court noted that although the workers' compensation law prohibited benefit recipients from suing employers for their injuries, it did not ban intentional torts or discrimination claims.
The court also determined that the supervisor's workers' comp benefit submissions did not claim she was completely disabled. Thus there was no contradiction with her disability discrimination allegation that she was otherwise qualified for her job. However, questions of fact remained regarding whether working the register was an essential function of the job, whether the supervisor truly was qualified to remain in her position with accommodations, and whether ringing up orders at the taller customer service counters was a reasonable accommodation that would have enabled her to keep her job.
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September 14, 2009
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