A collections operator worked in a city wastewater treatment plant. He injured his back while entering a ditch to install a section of pipe. His treating physician placed him on permanent restrictions of not lifting more than 30 pounds occasionally or 10 pounds frequently. The operator's job required him to move chemicals and supplies that weighed more than 10 pounds and lift manhole covers weighing 100 pounds. He admitted that he could no longer lift manhole covers or carry buckets of chemicals. He could also not lift heavy equipment or large pieces of pipe needed for repair work on the sewer system.
While he was recovering under workers' compensation and undergoing medical treatment, the city allowed him to perform light-duty assignments. When his physician determined that his work restrictions were permanent and he reached maximum medical improvement, the city attempted to identify a reasonable accommodation that would allow him to perform the essential functions of his job. Another physician agreed with the lifting restrictions. The city discharged the operator when it was unable to find any reasonable accommodation or other position for which he was qualified.
The operator sued the city, alleging disability discrimination under the ADA of 1990. The operator did not dispute that the lifting activities were essential functions that exceeded his work restrictions but claimed that he could perform the duties through "shared lifting." He also claimed that he could have been reassigned.
Will the court find that
the operator was subjected to discrimination?
A. No. The operator's request to have assistance lifting would impose an undue hardship on the city.
B. Yes. The city should have restructured the operator's job to allow him to have assistance in lifting.
C. Yes. The operator was a qualified individual with a disability entitled to reassignment.
How the court ruled: A. The U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky granted summary judgment to the city on the operator's ADA claim. Turner v. City of Paris, No. 5:11-CV-351-KSF (E.D. Ky. 12/26/12).
The court pointed out that requiring the city to provide frequent lifting assistance for loads over 10 pounds would shift the essential functions of the operator's job to another employee. This would impose an undue hardship on the city. The city could not ensure that the operator would be limited to no more than 30 pounds of a 100-pound manhole or no more than 10 pounds of a 40-gallon bucket of chemicals. The city also had legitimate concerns about whether the operator would lift too much weight and risk further injury.
The court also concluded that there was no vacant, funded position to which the operator could have been reassigned. Even if a position existed, he could not perform the essential functions under his lifting restrictions.
B is incorrect. The court explained that within the meaning of the ADA, "job restructuring" pertains to the restructuring of "non-essential duties or marginal functions of a job." The lifting duties in the operator's job were not marginal. The court found that his request was unreasonable.
C is incorrect. The court found that the operator was not a qualified individual with a disability because he could not perform the essential functions of his position. The operator's request for reassignment was not reasonable because he could not perform the essential functions under his lifting restrictions.
Editor's note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.
April 15, 2013
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