Cancer Victim Fired For Disclosing Brain Tumor Has Claim For Disability Discrimination
A U.S. District Court in Texas ruled that a Houston P.F.Chang’s restaurant may have violated the Americans with Disability Act when it fired one of its restaurant managers three days after he disclosed that he had a brain tumor.
On June 8, 2009 Jason Meinelt was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He told his boss, Michael Brown, the same day and also told him that he would probably have surgery in August and could be out for six to eight months. Brown was supervised by Glenn Piner. Bown told Piner immediately about Meinelt's condition.
Two days later, Piner began an audit involving employee clock-out time punches.
The next day, Meinelt was fired for improperly editing employees’ time records. Meinelt testified that he was “completely baffled” and “shocked” about the firing and that editing time was a common practice among all of the managers including the ones who preceded him.
P.F. Chang’s first argument, that Meinelt’s brain tumor was not a disability, was rejected by the Court. Under the ADA, a disability is a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The ADA was amended in 2008, and the amendments specifically included cancer in its definition of what may be considered a disability. As the Court noted,
Under ADAAA, "a major life activity includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to,… normal cell growth .. [and] brain .. functions. 42 U.S.C. s. 12102(2)(B). The disability test can be met by actually suffering an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity or “being regarded as having such impairment.”
Therefore, since Meinelt was terminated after the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 came into effect, he was covered under its "more expansive definition" of disability according to the Court. As to P.F. Chang’s contention that Meinelt was fired because of the time entries, the Court had this to say:
[T]here is undisputed evidence of the temporal coincidence of Meinelt revealing his medical condition and the employer’s decision to fire him. The record contains ample evidence supporting an inference that Piner’s belief that Meinelt had improperly edited time was not the reason he terminated Meinelt. Piner fired Meinelt only tree days after Brown told Piner about Meinelt’s tumor. ..(citations omitted)
Summary judgment on the ADA claim is denied.
This decision means that Meinelt has the opportunity to take his case to the jury but it has broader implications. It’s another victory for cancer victims who have been discriminated against by their employers.
Before the ADA amendments, these types of cases were routinely thrown out by courts which narrowly interpreted the ADA and held that the employees with cancer were not disabled --- and therefore not protected from disability discrimination. Those same arguments, raised by P.F. Chang’s in this case, failed and it’s about time. For another case on point see here. For more about cancer discrimination and the workplace, see here. For the Meinelt opinion, see here.
Jury Hits Auto Zone With $600 Thousand Verdict For Failure To Accommodate Disabled Employee
A federal jury in Peoria, Illinois returned a $600,000 verdict against AutoZone, the Memphis-based national auto parts retail giant, for failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to one of its sales managers. An additional claim for $115,000 in back pay will be decided at a later time by the presiding judge.
The case, brought by the EEOC, charged that AutoZone failed to accommodate its sales manager’s medical restrictions relating to his permanent back and neck impairments when it required him to perform certain cleaning tasks like mopping floors.The EEOC presented evidence that mopping floors was not an essential function of the sales manger position, that he requested not to be assigned to mopping floors along with medical documentation, and that mopping floors was a non-essential function of his job which could have been reassigned to other employees. The evidence showed that new store management refused his request, which lead to further injury and necessitated a medical leave.
The moral of the story is that employers had better take seriously the ADA’s provisions which require reasonable accommodations of the known physical limitations of its employees. What’s more, since so many employees suffer from permanent neck and back injuries, this verdict should be a big wake up call. Incidentally, this is not the first time AutoZone has tangled with the EEOC. For more about reasonable accommodations under the ADA, see here and here. For more about the case, read here.