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James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

When Does An Employer Know Or Have Reason To Know That An Employee Is Disabled?

Disability Discrimination claim form and pen.

For more than twenty years, our Citrus County, Florida wrongful termination lawyers have represented Florida employees who have been discriminated against on the basis of disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Through their extensive experience representing employees whose rights under the ADA have been violated, our Lecanto, Florida wrongful termination attorneys have learned that employers invariably defend disability discrimination claims by arguing they did not know or have reason to know of the employee’s disability. Because they did not know or have reason to know of the employee’s disability, employers contend, they could not have discriminated against the employee on the basis of disability.

Notice Of Disability Under ADA

Under the ADA, employers are forbidden from discriminating against employees on the basis of disability. In order to prove a disability discrimination under the ADA, an employee must demonstrate, in relevant part, that the employer knew or had reason to know of his or her disability. As explained by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Hedberg v. Indiana Bell Tel. Co., 47 F.3d 928 (7th Cir. 1995), “an employer cannot fire an employee because of a disability unless it knows of the disability.” “If [the employer] does not know of the disability,” the Hedbergcourt observed, “the employer is firing the employee because of some other reason.”

Unquestionably, as pointed out by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Hammon v. DHL Airways, Inc., 165 F.3d 441 (6th Cir. 1999), “an employer has notice of an employee’s disability when the employee tells the employer that he is disabled.” However, courts have determined that employees are not required to use the word “disabled” in order to impart notice to the employer of their disability. In this article, our Citrus County, Florida wrongful termination lawyers explain how the decision by the Sixth Circuit in Cady v. Remington Arms Company, 665 Fed. Appx. 413 (6th Cir. 2016) illuminates the type of information that will provide an employer with actual knowledge (employer knew) or constructive knowledge (employer should have known) of an employee’s disability.

Employee Alleges Wrongful Termination

In that case, Robert Cady (Cady) brought a wrongful termination claim against his former employer, Remington Arms Company (Remington), pursuant to the ADA. Cady alleges that Remington violated the ADA by firing him because of his disability.

In 2000, Cady hurt his back while bending to tie his shoe. Surgery relieved the pain until 2007, when his back pain flared again. He underwent a second surgery in 2008, and for a brief period his doctor restricted him from lifting and bending. Thereafter, Cady experienced little pain, and had no occasion to request work restrictions for his light-work job.

In 2012, Cady began working for Remington as an engineer. In 2013, according to Cady, his back began “progressively getting worse.” The following month, he had an MRI and scheduled a meeting with his neurologist for July 12, 2013 to discuss the MRI results. The day before the neurologist appointment, Cady told an HR manager that he was going to the doctor due to back pain, and shared his MRI results with her. This was the first time that Cady told anyone at Remington about his back issues. The MIR disclosed significant lower back problems, including spinal stenosis and nerve compression. Cady’s doctor prescribed only pain mediation because he was concerned that another intrusive surgery might exacerbate the pain. Cady told the doctor that his job was sedentary, and they agreed that he did not need any work restrictions.

Employee Fired After Disclosing Back Condition

The Monday following his doctor’s appointment, Cady traveled from his office in Kentucky to Remington’s plant in Minnesota. Remington’s Vice President, who worked at the plant in Minnesota, tasked Cady with increasing the plant’s production capacity. Among other job duties, the Vice President wanted Cady to assemble Creform work stations—benches made out of interlocking pipes and joints that can be customized to fit a particular manufacturing task. According to Cady, his job was to train others how to build the stations, not to construct them himself.

On July 16, 2013, Cady arrived at the plant and met with the plant manager. The plant manager told him that Remington’s chief operating officer had imposed a deadline to complete the Creform stations. The plant manager instructed Cady to spend the next few days building the Creform stations. As the morning progressed, Cady worried about aggravating his back injury while assembling the stations. Shortly before lunch, Cady spoke with one of his supervisors, Parker, in Kentucky “about unsafe conditions” and the plant and told Parker that assembling the Creform stations was “hurting his back.” After speaking with Parker, Cady went to the Vice-President’s office and told him about his prior back surgeries and stated that he was not going to be able to perform the physical labor of building the Creform stations. When Cady arrived for work the next morning, Remington fired him for “performance issues.”

Information About Condition Shows Knowledge

The trial court dismissed Cady’s wrongful termination claim. In doing so, the trial court concluded that Remington did not know or have reason to know of Cady’s disability. In support of its conclusion, the trial court reasoned that although Cady disclosed his previous back surgeries and was concerned about his back, his alleged “vague assertions of a history of back problems” did not put Remington on notice of his disability. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision and reinstated Cady’s wrongful termination claim.

In reversing the trial court, the Sixth Circuit explained that an employer knows or should know that an employee is disabled when it has “enough information about the employee’s condition to conclude that he is disabled.” Relevant information about the employee’s condition that would enable an employee to conclude that the employee is disabled “could include, among other things, a diagnosis, a treatment plan, apparent severe symptoms, and physician-imposed work restrictions.”

In applying this notice standard, the Sixth Circuit concluded that “a reasonable fact finder could determine that Cady notified Remington that he was disabled.” In support of its conclusion, the court of appeals pointed to evidence that Cady told the HR manager about seeing a surgeon about his back pain and shared with her the results of his MRI, which disclosed spinal stenosis and nerve compression. The appellate court also noted that Cady told the plant manager about his back issues and told the Vice President that he was concerned building stations would hurt his back. Taking all of this evidence together, the Sixth Circuit concluded, “a jury could find that Cady’s complaints about his back, coupled with Remington’s knowledge of his surgeries, recent doctor’s visit, and MRI results, sufficient to put Remington on notice that he was disabled.”

Inverness, FL Lawyers For Wrongful Termination

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Citrus County, Florida wrongful termination attorneys have been fighting against unlawful employment practices for more than two decades. If you have been wrongfully terminated or have questions about your rights as a wrongful termination victim, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Lecanto, Florida wrongful termination lawyers. Our employment and labor law attorneys take wrongful termination cases cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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