Legal Corner

ADA
Adverse employment action cannot be motivated by associational disability claim

The association provision of the ADA does not require employers to reasonably accommodate nondisabled employees so that they may care for disabled relatives or others. In Kelleher v. Fred A. Cook Inc., 2d Cir., a truck operator had a daughter who was born with Rett Syndrome, a severe neurological disorder. After he informed his company that he may have to rush home occasionally, he was given different job responsibilities with lower pay and his request to work 8-hour shifts, rather than 10-12 was denied. His supervisors told him, “his problems at home were not the company’s problems” and that he would not receive a raise.

After his daughter had a near-fatal seizure he told the company he could not work his next shift and he was demoted. A few weeks later, he was 10 -15 minutes late for work and ultimately was fired. While a district court dismissed his complaint under the ADA, the 2nd Circuit reversed. Although it acknowledged that he was not entitled to a reasonable accommodation as an employee associated with an individual with a disability under the ADA, the Court noted, “an employer’s reaction to such a request for accommodation can support an inference that a subsequent adverse employment action was motivated by associational discrimination.”

The company did not have to accept his schedule request, but his termination could not be motivated by his daughter’s disability. The court found sufficient allegations that the employer thought his daughter’s disability was a distraction and terminated him as a result because he was told “his problems at home were not the company’s problems” and was demoted after missing a shift to care for his daughter.

 

 

Woman wins lawsuit against university for not extending leave for postpartum depression

In Alves v. Trustees of Boston University, a woman who suffered from postpartum depression recently won a disability discrimination case against Boston University, her former employer, after her request for a second medical leave was rejected following the birth of her son about three years ago. Her leave was extended once under the FMLA, but her request for a second extension was denied and she was fired.

A jury awarded her $144,000 in compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional distress since the University did not follow the interactive process to reach a reasonable accommodation.

Jury awards Walmart employee $5.2 million

A Walmart cart pusher, who has a developmental disability and is deaf and visually impaired, had worked at a Beloit, Wisconsin, Walmart for 16 years. After a new manager started at the store, the employee was suspended and later forced to resubmit medical paperwork to keep his reasonable accommodations at his job. Walmart indicated safety concerns triggered the request. Before his suspension, the employee had performed his job with accommodation including assistance of a job coach.The paperwork requested the coach’s continued assistance. At that point, the employee was terminated.

Walmart’s position was that the employee could not perform the essential parts of his job with or without reasonable accommodations and that the EEOC demands were unreasonable. The company is weighing its options.

Workers’ Compensation

Safety citation for failure to require appropriate footwear upheld – California

In Home Depot USA Inc. v. California Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board, the Court of Appeals in Riverside unanimously affirmed an administrative law judge’s safety citation of $12,375 against Home Depot for failing to require its employees to wear appropriate footwear and ensure workers complied with industrial truck operation standards at its Mira Loma distribution warehouse. Two Home Depot warehouse workers had an accident while driving electric pallet jacks and one caught her foot between two jacks, sustaining an injury.

A Cal/OSHA inspection revealed that the employees were not wearing steel-toed footwear or work boots, but most wore sneakers. The investigator cited Home Depot for failing to require employees to wear appropriate foot protection and ensuring employees comply with safe operation standards for industrial trucks.

Home Depot’s policy required only that workers wear “closed-toed and closed-heeled shoes” and specifically did not allow “flip-Flops, sandals, open-toed shoes, or open heeled shoes.” The company argued that steel-toed boots or similar footwear can cause ergonomic problems, tripping hazards, and fatigue, and they can be “cumbersome,” “uncomfortable” and “bulky.”

Amicus curiae, Retail Litigation Center, Inc. and National Federation of Independent Business, who supported Home Depot, objected that the Board’s opinion articulates an “uncertain standard [that] will have far-reaching consequences…” The appeals court noted that a violation of the safety order is not based on previous history of accidents or injuries resulting from the exposure but rather on the existence of the danger which may cause injury. However, the court did “agree the language in the Board’s opinion can be read to sweep too broadly, so we emphasize our holding is limited to the facts and evidence of the case.”

Ruling on enforceability of unsigned document published – California

The 2nd District Court of Appeal’s decision in Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America v. WCAB (CIGA) established that an insurance policy’s limiting endorsement for special employees could not be invalidated just because the employer had not signed it. It originally was released as an unpublished decision, which is not binding precedent.

Unexercised right to subrogation does not bar removal of civil suit to federal court – California

In Gutierrez v. McNeilus Truck & Mfg, a worker was seriously injured when he fell from the roof of a garbage truck and sued the company that designed and manufactured the truck. When the case was removed to federal court on diversity grounds, the company filed a motion to remand because generally a civil action arising under the workers’ compensation laws of a state may not be removed.

However, the court denied the motion because the company contended that the claim arose under the workers’ compensation law because the injured worker’s employer and insurer had the right of subrogation, but neither the employer nor the insurer had asserted a subrogation claim. Therefore, they were not parties to the action. If the employer or insurer had intervened before the removal, there could have been a different outcome.

IME opinion that smoking and not worksite caused respiratory condition nixes claim – Florida

In Ernesto Blanco v. Creative Management Services LLC/Technology Insurance Co., an appeals court upheld the opinion of a judge that the major contributing cause of an employee’s respiratory condition was his 17-year history of cigarette smoking, not his 11 days on the job at an events management firm, handling materials that produced sawdust and debris in the air. On appeal, one of the worker’s challenges was the qualifications of the employer’s independent medical examiner (IME), who was not a pulmonologist. The court disagreed noting the IME was a board-certified occupational medicine specialist with extensive experience in exposure cases leading to pulmonary problems and qualified to give an opinion.

Jury awards over $3 million to injured worker in retaliation case – Illinois

In Jankowski v. Dean Foods, a worker who was injured at Dean Food’s Huntley milk processing facility, collected workers’ compensation, but refused work that exceeded his medical restrictions, was not offered any other light duty positions, and was fired. The jury found that Dean Foods discriminated against Jankowski in violation of the ADA by failing to accommodate his disability for one of the several open positions which he was able to perform and awarded $3,316,443 for lost wages and benefits and emotional distress.

Court erred in approving lump sum PPD award – Illinois

In Annoni v. City of Chicago, an appellate court said the employer could not be ordered to pay the worker a lump sum benefit unless the worker had sought such a lump sum pursuant to special statute, 820 ILCS 305/9. Workers’ compensation benefits are to provide a substitute for an injured worker’s lost wages, and as such, the Legislature has indicated a strong preference for period payments.

Parking lot injury not compensable – Illinois

In Walker Brothers v. IWCC (Ramsey), a restaurant posted a notice in the employee break room stating they could park in the Ace lot, which was near the restaurant. After meeting another employee who had a key to the restaurant, an employee slipped and fell as he walked to work. An arbitrator found that he failed to prove that he was in an accident that arose out of and in the course of his employment, but the Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed, and a circuit court judge affirmed.

On appeal, while the appellate court acknowledged employer “provided” parking lots are exceptions to the rule that injuries are not compensable when an employee slips and falls while traveling to or from work, the restaurant did not own or control the lot, nor did it pay for maintenance, and employees were not required to park there. Thus, the injury was not compensable.

Pre-existing fragile mental state exacerbated by workplace injury leads to permanent total disability – Missouri

An employee who endured “significant psychological trauma as a victim of physical and sexual abuse after her daughter’s rape and murder,” suffered head and neck injuries in an assembly line accident. When she returned to work where the plant was noisy, she suffered headaches and lapses of concentration and was unable to keep up with work demands. She was fired after working light duty for one week.

She filed a disability claim, which her employer eventually settled for $30,000, deeming her partially disabled. Later, a judge and the full state Workers Compensation Commission denied her claim for permanent disability, finding she did not “meet her burden of proving the nature and extent of any alleged preexisting psychological disability by a reasonable degree of certainty.” The appellate court disagreed and found the state fund liable for the woman’s permanent total disability, stating that she “met her burden” under state law “establishing that her preexisting permanent disabilities were serious enough to constitute a hindrance or obstacle to her employment or reemployment,” among other reasons.

Additional compensation denied to worker whose pain was not credible – Nebraska

In Oneyda Jordan v. Tyson Fresh Meats Inc., a chicken processing plant worker who underwent surgery to both hands for a compensable work injury sought additional compensation for her continued pain. An appeals court affirmed the denial by the workers compensation court, noting medical evidence proved she had reached maximum improvement and could work unrestricted. Further, based on testimony from co-workers and surveillance video that contradicted her testimony of extreme pain, the court rejected her argument that her pain supported a loss of earning capacity.

Subchapter S business owner benefits based on wages, not share of profits – Nebraska

In Bortolotti v. Universal Terrazzo & Tile Co., the sole stockholder and the president of a Subchapter S corporation, suffered a compensable injury. The IRS Schedule E showed self-employment wages of $3,950 and “qualified production activities income” of $186,873, and the owner testified that he took a weekly draw of $3,625. The case made its way to the Supreme Court that said wages are compensation for activities as a corporate employee and do not include net profit for an employee of an S corporation. It was the employee’s burden to provide evidence differentiating his wages as a corporate employee from his profits as a corporate shareholder, which he did not do. Based on an annual wage of $3.950, he was entitled to $49 per week in benefits, the minimum income benefit.

Volunteer not entitled to benefits – New York

In Matter of Mauro v. American Red Cross, a volunteer received her full salary from her employer while participating in events for the Red Cross during employment hours. She was hit in the nose by a hand cart while she loaded materials into her cart and filed a workers’ comp claim against the Red Cross. The appellate court affirmed the denial of benefits because there was no employment relationship between the volunteer and the charity.

First appellate decision to deal with medical marijuana and workers’ comp – New York

In Matter of the Claim of James Kluge, v. Town of Tonawanda et al., Workers Compensation Board, a police officer sustained a permanent partial disability and suffered from chronic pain. He was prescribed medical marijuana in 2017, which was denied by the comp insurer. He sought review of the denial of the variance request with a worker’s compensation law judge who overturned the denial. However, the Workers Compensation Board reversed finding that “it could not approve a variance for treatment already rendered.”

On appeal, the Court acknowledged that the Board had properly denied the variance request, but indicated it should have considered the merits of the request for prospective marijuana treatment, since the officer has a chronic pain condition necessitating ongoing treatment. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

Disability cannot be apportioned between traumatic brain injury and pre-existing MS – New York

In Matter of Whitney v. Pregis Corp, a maintenance worker slipped on a patch of ice and suffered injuries to his back, hip, head and brain. He also was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and filed a motion for compensability, arguing that the MS was either directly induced or exacerbated by the fall. A workers’ compensation law judge found that MS was a pre-existing condition unrelated to the fall and the Board affirmed and apportioned 60 percent of the disability to his non-disabling and undiagnosed multiple sclerosis.

An appellate court overturned, noting there was no evidence the MS had affected his abilities to perform the duties of his employment prior to the accident and that the condition had not even been diagnosed until after the accident. Thus, apportionment, as a matter of law, was inappropriate in the case.

Sole remedy for deceased worker’s family is workers’ comp – North Carolina

In State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Don’s Trash Co., an appellate court held that the auto liability insurer of a corporation that had temporarily borrowed an employee of a separate, but related corporate entity to drive one of its vehicles, need not defend a wrongful death action filed against the corporation. The “borrowed” employee was driving at the time of the fatal crash; therefore, he was the co-employee of the employee who was killed in the vehicular crash and the sole remedy of the deceased’s estate was under workers’ compensation.

Court rejects constitutional challenge to “Protz-fix” – Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania AFL-CIO v. Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Court rejected a constitutional challenge to the General Assembly’s revised impairment rating evaluation process, which mandates a physician’s use of the American Medical Association “Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment,” 6th edition (second printing April 2009) for determining impairment in workers’ compensation cases. The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO asserted that the new law also contained an impermissible delegation of authority to the AMA.

However, the Court noted the General Assembly can adopt as its own “a particular set of standards which already are in existence at the time of adoption.”

Immigration status irrelevant to comp benefits – Pennsylvania

In Bryn Mawr Landscaping Co. v. WCAB (Cruz-Tenorio), a worker was injured when he was struck in the head by a large branch. A neurologist diagnosed him with post-concussive syndrome and other issues and he received treatment from an orthopedic surgeon. Both submitted disability notes to the company. The claims adjuster acknowledged that he had a valid work visa.

The company issued a notice of temporary compensation payable for medical benefits only and began an investigation. Their neurologist and an orthopedic surgeon found that the issues had been resolved.

The employee filed a workers’ compensation claim, and a penalty petition, asserting that Bryn Mawr had violated the law by failing to issue a notice of compensation payable, had not paid him indemnity benefits, and interfered with his ability to obtain medical treatment. In turn,the company filed a termination petition alleging the employee was fully recovered and a suspension petition requesting a change in status from totally disabled to partially disabled because he could not lawfully work.

The case made its way to the Commonwealth Court that found the injured employee was not an undocumented worker nor was his loss of earning power caused by his immigration status instead of work injuries. Further, a judge had determined that the company’s medical experts lacked credibility and the court was bound by that decision. The injured worker was awarded benefits and attorney fees.

High court reverses trial court dismissal of mold exposure claim – Tennessee

In Williams v. SWS LLC, an employee began experiencing respiratory issues when her company moved to a new building. She missed time from work when she had two surgeries in January and July 2011, which included removing a portion of her lingual tonsil and later received a note from her doctor that said she had “clinical evidence of toxic mold exposure” in September 2011. She quit her job in April 2012.

Later she filed a workers’ compensation complaint alleging she had suffered injuries because of her workplace exposure to mold. The case revolved around whether this was a gradually occurring injury or occupational disease and whether the claim had been timely filed. Under the law, the worker has to provide her employer with notice of claim and a request for a benefit review conference within one year of injury. The company argued that since she had lost time from work for surgery to treat her allegedly compensable injuries, her last day worked before her surgery constitutes the date of injury. But the employee argued that the last day was the day she quit.

The Supreme Court’s Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel revived the claim finding there was a triable question as to whether it ought to be barred by the statute of limitations and whether this was a gradually occurring injury or occupational disease.

24/7 home health care not warranted – Virginia

In Dawson v. County of Henrico, a man who became disabled with a brain injury in a work-related vehicle accident failed to convince the Court of Appeals that he required 24-hour a day, seven days a week home health care provided by his fiancée or at her direction. His treating psychiatrist said he suffered from depression, fatigue, headaches, memory impairment, aggression, difficulty regulating emotions and cognitive difficulties and that he failed to “understand what he needs to do to take care of himself.” He recommended the home health care, but later noted he probably did not need care “every hour.”

An appellate court supported the commission’s conclusion that 24-hour home health care was not medically necessary, and affirmed the denial of the care.

Appellate court overturns Commission and denies care by spouse – Virginia

In Cumberland Hosp. & Ace Am. Ins. Co. v. Ross, a registered nurse sustained severe injuries, including traumatic brain injury and was awarded several benefits, including 24-hour home health care, which was provided through an agency. After a little over a year, the nurse filed a claim with the Commission requesting that the home health care be provided by her spouse. The agency hired the spouse, but fired him after three weeks for not properly providing activity notes.

The Commission found that the medical care was necessary and, therefore, did not apply the four requirements set forth in Warren Trucking Co. v. Chandler for care by a spouse. An appellate court said the issue here was not only if home health care was medically necessary, but rather whether the services provided by the spouse constituted such care; therefore, it was necessary to analyze the four requirements of Chandler. Specifically, did the services performed by this spouse in attending to the needs of the disabled nurse qualify as ‘other necessary medical attention’ within the meaning of Code § 65.2-603.

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