Missouri discriminates against employees with disabilities
A panel of judges recently awarded a $3.3 million prize in a disability discrimination and retaliation proceeding submitted by a former Legislative Analyst for the Missouri House of Representatives.
On September 30, the Cole County District Court rendered final judgment in the case against the Missouri House of Representatives and Daniel Adam Crumbliss, who was Chief Secretary of the Missouri House of Representatives at the time of the lawsuit. The jury found that the state failed to take into account the analyst’s disabilities, unlawfully dismissed him because of his disabilities, and retaliated against him for requesting placement.
The analyst was fired in 2017 after requesting workplace adjustments due to his anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He claimed Crumbliss got back at him after saying he would speak to the Missouri Human Rights Commission.
The analyst said his disabilities affected sleeping, concentrating, thinking and interacting with others, but he said he is fully able to perform the essential functions of his job. He called for a quieter workspace and the ability to work from home some days, and asked for a third party specializing in accommodation to be brought in to discuss the situation. He claimed his employer failed to assess his need for accommodation or participate in an interactive process to make reasonable accommodation as required by the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The analyst’s line manager questioned his work ethic and how seriously he takes his job, according to court documents at a meeting several weeks before his sacking. The state argued that he was fired for disobedience and refusing to do his job and work with his team.
“After more than 30 years of labor litigation, I find that juries become increasingly intolerant when the jury believes the employer did not do the right thing,” said Mark Neuberger, attorney at Foley & Lardner in Miami.
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against or retaliating against workers with disabilities for demanding workplace accommodations.
“Even if an employer has a process or policy in place, things can go wrong if an employee doesn’t know how to apply it or a manager doesn’t understand their legal responsibilities,” said Michelle Barrett Falconer. an attorney at Littler in San Francisco.
“Many employers don’t take the time to go through the interactive process with the home seeker because the employer is afraid of what the employee might ask for. That’s a mistake,” said Neuberger. “Employers should be willing to lead the discussion and should be willing to offer other reasonable accommodations. Under the ADA, the accommodation need not be what the employee desires. It just has to be one that gives him the opportunity to do her job.”
If possible, consider alternative work assignments. “There’s a whole laundry list of alternate schedules, delegation of menial work duties, etc.,” Falconer said. “One thing that I think is often overlooked is the idea of a transfer. Is there another job we would have available for him that he is qualified for? Before you break up, there really is that obligation to consider a transfer or a different role. That’s the big #1 flag that pops up.
According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), reassignment is a last resort.
“As you look at this possible reassignment or transfer, there are a few things to keep in mind: The [EEOC] generally takes the position that one must find something that is as equivalent as possible. Sometimes there is no similar job of equal value. You don’t have to promote the person. They could if something is available and they are qualified,” she added.
Training managers is important because “this area of law is complicated, often counterintuitive for managers and fraught with potential potholes that companies can run into, especially when the employee’s condition also affects family and sick leave law, disability insurance and workers’ compensation.” said Neuberger.
The Job Accommodation Network, a service of the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, provides employers with tips and resources on ADA compliance and precautions.