1st Circuit Gives Employers Some Breathing Room in ADA Claims

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on April 28, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The First Circuit affirmed in whole the summary dismissal of an employee's disability discrimination claims on Monday, ruling that the employee failed to prove a prima facie case of repeated violations.

The case is sure to come as a relief to employers who have often complained that federal anti-discrimination laws are overly onerous and hamper business and profits.

The Americans With Disabilities Act, Failure to Accommodate

As employment lawyers are aware, the federal Americans With Disabilities Act requires an employee complaining of disability discrimination to show a disablement, an adverse employment action, that the position was later filled, and that he or she could have performed the job with or without a "reasonable accommodation."

Here, the petitioner, Raymond Murray was a safety and compliance manager at the Massachusetts firm of Warren Pumps, a company that did business with the federal government. Murray had worked at the company occasionally before being rehired in 2008. At that time, it was established that his employer and supervisor Matthew Korzec was aware of Murray's physical limitations and back injuries. Murray requested limitations of his lifting, his standing or sitting for extended periods of time, and also requested limitations to filing excessive paperwork.

In general, these requests were honored, but sometimes grudgingly and served with attitude.

Termination and Summary Dismissal

It didn't take long before Murray found himself without a job. Who quit the relationship? It became a case of "he said, she said."

In either case, district court determined that Murray had passed the threshold question of whether or not he had established a disability related to his back. But it found he had stopped short of showing that Korzec and his company had failed to accommodate Murray's disability.

For example, when Murray rebuffed Korzec's request that he perform a particular task that Murray thought fell outside of his requested limitations, he would frequently get snide remarks or attitude from Korzec -- but he would never force Murray to undertake the performance anyway. This was key.

In fact, a review of the lower court's records seems to indicate that the First Circuit was not entirely sure of the frequency or even how accurate these incidents were. Since Murray often gave very sparse details (using such terms as "time to time"), the court was inclined to rule in favor of defendant, particularly when the lower court's ruling was subject to highly deferential de novo review.

So, this seems to send a clear message to employees. Document each and every supposed "violation" of statutory law. One could have expected as much from a compliance officer.

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