Questions over reassignment refusal send manufacturer to trial
Lane v. Bremner Food Group, Inc., No. 5:07-cv-00206-R (W.D. Ky. 01/08/10).
The U.S. District Court, Western District of Kentucky denied summary judgment to a food manufacturer in a former employee's Americans with Disabilities Act suit and granted summary judgment to the manufacturer in the employee's workers' compensation retaliation suit.
What it means: In Kentucky, when an employee with a recently developed disability seeks reassignment to a new position that meets his medical restrictions, his employer must make a good-faith effort to locate a vacant position or to otherwise reasonably accommodate him before removing him. An employer cannot refuse to consider an otherwise qualified disabled employee for reassignment based on his inability to perform nonessential job functions.
Summary: A belt tech for a food manufacturer had several work-related accidents that resulted in injuries to his back and knee. Due to his medical restrictions, the manufacturer worked with his doctors to determine whether there were alternate positions. One position seemed to meet the tech's medical restrictions, but it included filling in for another position during breaks. The tech could not perform the fill-in duties with his restrictions. The manufacturer discharged him, even though the tech identified other positions he could perform. The tech sued under the ADA and workers' compensation law. The District Court denied summary judgment to the manufacturer on the employee's disability discrimination claim. The court held that the tech raised factual questions regarding whether filling in during breaks was an essential function of the job. The court pointed out the manufacturer did not offer a sufficient explanation that the duty was essential. The court also determined there were questions about whether the manufacturer was aware of two vacant positions in the stockroom that may have become available when the tech was seeking a reassignment. It concluded that the tech's accommodation claims should proceed to trial.
The court granted the employer summary judgment on the tech's workers' compensation retaliation claim. The tech referenced a remark allegedly made by his supervisor that he had just returned from workers' compensation for another injury. The court ruled that this was not enough to establish retaliatory animus.
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February 22, 2010
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