Case name: Baker v. Windsor Republic Doors, No. 08-6200/09-5722/09-6553 (6th Cir. 03/08/11, unpublished).
Ruling: In an unpublished decision, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a door manufacturer under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The 6th Circuit also affirmed the District Court's rulings on post-verdict motions by the parties.
What it means: According to the 6th Circuit, requiring an employee with a disability to waive workers' compensation benefits otherwise available to employees without disabilities "smacks" of the type of discrimination the ADA seeks to protect.
Summary: A forklift operator for a door manufacturer had an enlarged heart, which required him to have a pacemaker installed. When he sought to return to work, concerns were raised about whether the work environment might affect the pacemaker. A doctor opined that the operator could return to work if he wore an alarm that indicated the presence of high electromagnetic fields. The manufacturer notified the operator that it did not consider the alarm a reasonable accommodation because he would have difficulty hearing it in the facility. Pursuant to state law, the manufacturer proposed that the operator waive his rights to workers' compensation benefits arising from injuries caused by his heart condition. He sued under the ADA of 1990. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held the operator was not entitled to a reasonable accommodation.
The court found the manufacturer regarded the operator as disabled. The manufacturer was not simply relying on the operator's doctor's medical advice but was giving effect to its own motivations.
The court also rejected the manufacturer's argument that making the operator sign the workers' compensation waiver -- pursuant to pre-ADA state law -- was not an adverse employment action. It was not unreasonable for a jury to conclude that the action was precipitated by the operator's insistence on an accommodation. However, precedent bound the court to conclude that a "regarded as" disability precluded the manufacturer's obligation to reasonably accommodate the operator. The court explained that imposing liability on employers who fail to accommodate nondisabled employees who are regarded as disabled would lead to bizarre results.
The court also held the operator was subjected to retaliation. The court said a reasonable jury could conclude that the true motivation for the manufacturer's action was to save the company medical payments from its self-insured workers' compensation plan. The court upheld the awards of damages and fees to the operator.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
May 12, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications