A federal jury has ruled in favor of Western Distributing Co. on two of three claims in a disabilities discrimination lawsuit.
After a 14-day trial, a jury decided that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission did not prove claims that Western Distributing failed to accommodate or provide employment opportunities. The EEOC’s lawsuit claimed the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
However, the jury found that Western Distributing implemented certain standards, criteria or methods of administration that caused an adverse disproportionate impact on individuals with a disability. Policies that have had a disparate impact on individuals include:
- “Full-duty” policy.
- Requiring drivers be able to static push and pull 130 pounds of weight.
- Requiring drivers be able to static push and pull 130 pounds of weight at 58 inches above the ground.
The requirement of “full duty” to return to work denied employees the opportunity to work with medical restrictions. A discharge determination was made without a process that could determine if the employee could perform essential functions of the job or to discuss potential reasonable accommodations.
The case was filed in July 2016 by the EEOC claiming Western Distributing violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Western was accused of failing to accommodate, terminating and refusing to rehire qualified employees with disabilities. Furthermore, EEOC alleged that Western administered policies that effectively limited opportunities for disabled employees and retaliated against those who engaged in lawfully protected activities.
Specifically, Western Distributing Co. is accused of having a “maximum-leave” practice that terminates employees who are unable to return to work in 12 weeks or less.
The policy required employees who are off work for medical reasons to receive a full-duty medical clearance before returning to work. Employees who could return to work with accommodations were not allowed to do so, and employees were discharged upon expiration of their medical leave, regardless of whether they could have returned with some accommodations.
According to the lawsuit, Western Distributing Co. denied employees’ request for an extension on their medical leave, regardless of how short the extension was. Western also denied requests for accommodations.
Heart surgery recovery
At least one over-the-road trucker experienced such alleged discrimination. In March 2009, a trucker for Western Distributing informed the company that he had developed a heart condition that required open-heart surgery. Shortly after, the driver began his Family Medical Leave Act leave.
In May 2009, Western Distributing received a note from a doctor that stated the trucker was OK to return to commercial driving with no restrictions. However, Western required a release from its own doctor. The contracted doctor determined that the driver could not return to work until at least June 26, 2009.
Western Distributing denied the driver’s request to work in another capacity in the meantime. The trucker’s FMLA leave expired on June 17, 2009, just nine days before the scheduled appointment with the company’s doctor. Western discharged the driver that same day.
The company doctor ended up clearing the driver for work on June 26. However, the driver was told he would need to be rehired as a new employee. The lawsuit alleged that “numerous other qualified employees with disabilities have been denied the opportunity to work.”
In November 2021, Western Distributing Co. claimed the Americans with Disabilities Act interferes with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. LL