As Ohio ADA attorneys who regularly represent employees in ADA cases, employees must understand that their employers must provide them with reasonable accommodations. A recent opinion by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals delves into an employer’s duty to accommodate disabled employees with a reasonable accommodation. A Stow firefighter-paramedic had a disability as a result of being blinded in one eye in an incident involving a bottle rocket.
For the purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act, including the amendments to it, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The definition of major life activities in 42 U.S.C. 12102 (2)(A) includes seeing, so this particular employee was substantially limited in a major life activity because he was blind in one eye.
The crucial legal argument centered on whether the employee/firefighter was a qualified individual with a disability – meaning is the employee able to perform the essential functions of their job with or without a reasonable accommodation. In this particular case of the firefighter-paramedic, he was cleared to return to work without any restrictions by his eye surgeon and a doctor working on behalf of the city, Dr. Henderson (although Dr. Henderson cautioned the firefighter about adjusting to his decreased vision especially when using a self-contained breathing apparatus or driving at high speeds). When the firefighter-paramedic told his boss (the Chief) that he was released to return to work without any restrictions, the Chief seemed in disbelief that the employee was medically cleared to return to work without restrictions. The Chief asked if the employee had been cleared by a certain physician, Dr. Moten. The employee responded that Dr. Moten was unavailable to see him, but that he was examined and cleared by Dr. Moten’s colleague, Dr. Henderson. After the Chief ended the call with the employee/firefighter, he called Dr. Moten and left a voicemail. Following his receipt of the Chief’s voicemail, Dr. Moten concluded that an error had been made by Dr. Henderson to clear the firefighter-paramedic and he was actually unfit for duty because he was completely blind in his right eye. With Dr. Moten’s new conclusion, the Chief contacted the employee/firefighter and told him a mistake had been made and he could not return to work because the fire regulations would not allow it.
Accordingly, there was a difference of medical opinion. Pursuant to the eye surgeon and Dr. Henderson, the employee/firefighter was released without any particular restriction (although again Dr. Henderson cautioned him), but Dr. Moten said the firefighter/employee was unfit to work. The Chief and employer’s position was that the employee’s blindness in one eye prevented him from being able to perform the essential functions of his job, including driving a truck at a high rate of speed with the lights flashing and sirens blaring. On the other hand, the employee’s position was that he was able to safely operate the truck. Interestingly, he subsequently obtained employment as a firefighter with another fire department after his termination. During this subsequent employment, the employee safely operated trucks. The employee also argued that not every firefighter with his former employer was required to drive the truck so there were reasonable accommodations available that should have been made rather than terminating his employment.
The Appeals Court has a wonderful analysis here of disability discrimination and wrongful termination under the ADA. There is also a news article summary of the case here. Because the lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment was overturned, the case was sent back to the District Court and the Appeals Court deemed it necessary to assign it to a different judge.
The takeaway from this case is that inquiries into whether an employer discriminated against an employee on the basis of their disabilities are very fact-intensive as this is a very brief summary. In addition, if an employee requests an accommodation they must qualify as an individual with a disability and be able to perform the essential functions of their job with or without a reasonable accommodation. In the event you believe you have been discriminated against on the basis of your disability or some other reason, it is best to seek advice of legal counsel.
Our Ohio employment discrimination attorneys are here to provide you with a free consultation if you have questions about your rights under the ADA. Our Experienced Ohio ADA Attorneys will provide you with an overview of your rights and advise you of the best manner to proceed in order to ensure you are treated properly. If you have been discriminated against or terminated because of your pregnancy, our Ohio ADA Attorneys will fight for your rights. Contact our Ohio ADA Attorneys at 1-614-949-1181 for a free consultation.