MONTANA: Employer lucks out on discrimination claim
A Montana employer lucked out and was found by a state agency not to have illegally discriminated against a probationary employee that supervisors described as “too old for the job” and looking “like he’d had a stroke.” Reinhardt was a locomotive engineer trainee who had difficulty with many of the physical aspects of the job. When being evaluated by senior engineers, he was described as being unsteady on his feet, out of balance, acting as if he’d had a stroke and “too old for the job.” Eventually, Reinhardt was terminated over concerns about his ability to safely perform the job. He filed a complaint with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, claiming he’d been discriminated against on the basis of age and disability. Almost miraculously, the hearing officer decided that the statements made about Reinhardt’s age and physical condition were not evidence of discrimination, but rather, were just a layman’s way of describing how Reinhardt appeared during performance evaluations (Reinhardt v. BNSF Railway Co., Montana Dept. of Labor & Industry, Nov. 2009).
Tips: Train managers in the appropriate way to evaluate an employee, by describing any performance deficiencies objectively and without use of labels relating to their age or assumptions about their physical condition. If, after observing an employee having difficulty on the job, you have concerns over the employee’s physical condition, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) permits you to seek a professional medical opinion. Contact your Vigilant staff representative for assistance.