The Trickiness Of The ADA

HR professionals know when employees have medical issues, it can be a challenge to make decisions within the organization. If they are handled improperly, it can create significant legal issues as well. In an article appearing on the SHRUM website, Jeffrey Rhodes reported on such a situation involving Mid-South Extrusion Inc. and an allegation of discrimination which would have been in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The plaintiff in the case was hired by Mid-South as a maintenance technician in September of 2014. As part of accepting the company’s offer, the plaintiff completed a post-offer questionnaire regarding his medical history. In it, he disclosed health issues which included a health limitation of range of motion and lifting ability that was caused by a prior shoulder injury. No other medical conditions or impairments were listed by the plaintiff on the questionnaire.

After his 90-day probation and raise, the supervisor had begun to notice performance issues and receiving complaints from fellow workers. These included delegation of tasks to untrained coworkers and suspected alcohol use. The plaintiff was issued verbal warnings for this.

Additional issues arose when the plaintiff had increased issues. The HR manager brought these to the attention of company management.

At issue were the health conditions of the plaintiff and the work environment which led to a further exacerbation of his medical issues. Around the time of the plaintiff’s annual review, the HR manager was told by the supervisor that he would be firing the plaintiff because he was “not qualified to be a maintenance technician.” The plaintiff alleged that the supervisor informed him that upper management wanted him gone. The plaintiff additionally alleged that his supervisor also made comments including “all of these sick people make our insurance liability and premiums higher.”

The plaintiff filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that his firing was in violation of the ADA. The EEOC agreed and issued a letter of determination in favor of the plaintiff and later brought a federal lawsuit. Mid-South filed a motion for summary judgment which the court later denied.