Employment Law Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law and HR

Mar 27, 2015

Employer loses bid to overturn large jury verdict on ADA claim

Disability 

When a jury decided to award an employee $1 million on her disability discrimination and failure to accommodate claims, it was decided her employer was to be held accountable for numerous actions. Some of the employer actions that factored into the decision were:

When a jury decided to award an employee $1 million on her disability discrimination and failure to accommodate claims, it was decided her employer was to be held accountable for numerous actions. Some of the employer actions that factored into the decision were:

• Posting the employee’s position while she was out on leave;
• Delaying the employee’s medical examination to prevent her from returning to work;
• Ignoring her accommodation request, and
• Getting offended when the employee needed to frequently stand during meetings to alleviate her back pain.

Prior to becoming injured in a car accident, the employee had a successful 11-year track record, with no disciplinary history or issues. Following the accident, however, her relationship with the company appeared to shift. Along with the actions described above, she was also subjected to several investigations into her work performance and inquiries about how she does her job.

Although the company’s inquiries uncovered some work performance issues that ultimately led to the employee’s termination, her co-workers received no discipline for similar behavior. When adding it all up, a jury decided that her employer treated her differently based on her disability and accommodation requests. The employer appealed the jury verdict, arguing that they had a justified business-related reason for terminating her employment, but an Oregon district court stood behind the jury’s decision, finding that there was substantial evidence to support the jury’s conclusion (Arnold v. Pfizer, Inc., D Or, Jan. 2015).

Tips: Having your company’s fate left in the hands of a jury can be a scary proposition. This employer believed that it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for termination. However, during trial, many  facts came to light that didn’t paint a favorable picture of the employer and ultimately led to a large jury verdict.

This case serves as a good reminder for employers to take a step back and look at an employment situation from an outsider’s perspective--especially when it comes to dealing with a disabled employee.

Be sure you understand your obligations with regard to disability accommodations by reviewing our Legal Guide, “ADA: Reasonable Accommodation and the Interactive Process” and discuss any specific situations with your Vigilant employment attorney.

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