Cost of Firing Worker Because He Had Arthritis: $5.5 Million
Supervisor told staffer to leave until he could work without restrictions
One employer recently learned a very expensive lesson about terminating
employees who are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
A staffer who required minor accommodations under the ADA had been handling
his work duties with no trouble for years. Unfortunately, a new supervisor
didn’t want an arthritic person on his crew, so he axed the man’s
After a lengthy legal battle, this worker finally achieved justice –
and may even receive a hefty payout from his former employer.
Let’s look at what happened to Albert Gucker and then discuss what
it means to other workers who may qualify for ADA protection on the job.
No Accommodations Were Allowed
For over 30 years, Gucker had been punching the clock at U.S. Steel. During
that time, he’d held various positions. His most-recent job was
repairing heavy equipment.
Like many people, Gucker began suffering from arthritis as he got older.
He saw a doctor, who recommended that Gucker not lift anything over 30
pounds and that he avoid climbing. Gucker asked for accommodations at
work and was granted them.
He worked within these accommodations for more than a decade.
However, in 2011, all of that changed. A new supervisor began overseeing
Gucker claims that the new supervisor became extremely agitated when he
found out that Gucker required accommodations. The manager called Gucker
into the office and told him to get off the property and not come back
until he could do his job without limitations.
Baffled, Gucker went home. Eventually he was told that he could return
to work, but with a different job description. And there was another caveat,
too: He’d need to pass a physical exam first.
Gucker complained that he’d been doing his regular job without issue
for more than 10 years. He stated that he felt the exam was meant to disqualify
him from working.
The company suspended him without pay.
Gucker decided to speak to an attorney. He sued U.S. Steel for violating
his rights under the ADA, as well as under state laws against discrimination.
The company attempted to have the case thrown out. It claimed that the
supervisor’s actions were in Gucker’s best interest because
Gucker’s physical restrictions could pose a safety issue.
The case went before a jury, which sided with Gucker.
He was awarded $550,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.
The company is attempting to have the award amounts reduced.
(The case discussed here is Gucker v. U.S. Steel.)
What It Means to Workers
The ADA provides protection from discrimination for workers who may require
job accommodations. Under federal law, employers are required to engage
in an “interactive process” with employees who request accommodations
under the ADA. That is, companies must attempt to work with disabled employees
to find appropriate job modifications to allow them to continue working.
However, businesses may deny accommodations that would pose a hardship.
For example, companies would generally not be expected to adopt accommodations
that would disrupt their business operations.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that the ADA demands that
each situation is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. That’s why
it’s a good idea to speak to an experienced employment law attorney
if you believe that your rights under the ADA may have been compromised.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.