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Legally Blind Worker Sues Home Depot for Requiring Smartphone Use

As many companies begin to require their employees to use tablets and smartphones in the workplace, some workers are having problems dealing with their small screens (maybe this is the reason Apple is rumored to be coming out with a larger screen smartphone this fall).

A legally blind former assistant store manager for Home Depot filed a lawsuit against the company last Tuesday, claiming it failed to accommodate his disability when it required workers to use small-screened smartphones, and then fired him.

Leslie W. Gibson began working at Home Depot in Arizona in 2000 as a sales associate, and was promoted to a supervisor role two years later. After being transferred to several different sites, including a new store in Glendale to facilitate its opening, Gibson was placed in the Arrowhead location as an assistant store manager, he states.

In that role, Gibson was responsible for a range of supervisory tasks, including hiring and firing employees, opening and closing the store and keeping the electrical, plumbing and garden departments stocked, according to the suit.

Gibson alleges that along with other Home Depot employees, he often used "mobile workstations" that consisted of a normal desktop computer with a large screen. But in the fall of 2010, the store allegedly replaced the computer stations with smartphones, which had screens measuring just two-by-four inches.

The suit states that when the store's manager, Will Bisson, demonstrated the phones at an employee meeting, Gibson couldn't see the screen or read its print because of its small size, and immediately told Bisson. Although Bisson allegedly acknowledged that the screen was hard to read, Gibson wasn't provided with any accommodation in the following weeks, the suit claims.

Eventually, Bisson, Gibson and Home Depot's human resources manager for the district, Dana Sadler, had a meeting about the requested accommodation, at which time Gibson spoke about his difficulty reading the smartphones, and asked to be moved to more manageable departments.

But according to Gibson, the store failed to take any steps to assist him after the meeting, and instead placed him on a purportedly burdensome performance improvement plan, resulting in the assistant store manager losing a recent raise, bonus and stock options, the complaint states.

"The [performance improvement plan] posed extra tasks and burdens on Mr. Gibson, including creating binders for each department [he] managed," the suit alleges. "In order to meet defendant's requirements pursuant to the PIP, Mr. Gibson worked 12-16 hours a day, sometimes six days per week."

Gibson, who has lodged complaints for both discrimination and retaliation under the American with Disabilities Act, alleges there is a "causal link" between his request for accommodation and Home Depot's firing of him. The complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

"The fact that Mr. Gibson is legally blind was a motivating factor in defendant's decision to terminate him on April 25, 2011," the suit alleges. "The unlawful employment practices ... were willful, malicious, wanton and in bad faith."

The takeaway: Poor eyesight is a disability which is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you have been discriminated against in your New York workplace for your disability, give us a call.
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