Company Refuses to Reinstate Worker After Injury, Despite Multiple Medical Clearances
Employer insisted that man’s motorcycle accident made him a safety risk
Imagine that you suffered a terrible injury that put you out of commission for months. After regaining your health and completing rehabilitation, you’re finally ready to go back to work and reclaim your old life.
However, when you notify your employer that you’re ready to resume your job duties, you’re not given a particularly warm welcome. In fact, the company refuses to let you return to work, despite the fact that your doctor says that you’re fine.
That’s exactly what happened to Warren Whitted. He spent years fighting to get his job back until, finally, he had to take his battle to court.
Let’s look at what happened to Whitted and then discuss what it means to other workers who may be facing similar situations.
Doctor’s Word Wasn’t Good Enough
Whitted was a train conductor for Norfolk Southern. About eight months after he was hired, he was in a serious motorcycle accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
He was unable to return to work for several months while he underwent rehab. However, four months later, Whitted’s doctor gave him unrestricted clearance to return to work.
But Norfolk Southern had other ideas. Because of the potential for safety issues, company policy required employees who had been severely injured to be examined by the company medical team before being allowed back on the job.
Whitted passed his exam. The company sent him for another medical evaluation, which he also passed. But he still was not allowed to return to his job.
Over the next eight months, Whitted was required to undergo several additional medical exams and was asked to perform field tests to prove that he was capable of safely performing his job duties. He passed every test, but the company still refused to allow him to resume his position.
Finally, the company sent Whitted a letter stating that he would not be allowed to return to his position as a conductor because of his traumatic brain injury. Whitted was instructed that he could apply for other jobs within the company through the vocational rehabilitation department.
Whitted applied for several jobs but was repeatedly turned down due to supposed safety concerns.
Sought Legal Protection
Whitted contacted an attorney and sued the company. In his lawsuit, he argued that the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to allow him to return to work after his injury. He alleged that, despite having received multiple medical clearances, the company would not reinstate him because it regarded him as disabled.
The company countered that Whitted wasn’t able to safely perform all the functions of his job.
The case went before a jury, which sided with Whitted. It found that Norfolk Southern refused to reinstate Whitted because it regarded him as disabled. The jury also determined that Whitted did not pose a safety risk to himself, others, or the company.
The jury awarded Whitted a whopping $10.5 million in back pay and damages.
However, because the ADA only permits damages of up to $300,000 per plaintiff, the judge capped Whitted’s award at $396,521, which includes $96,521 in back pay.
(The case discussed here is Whitted v. Norfolk Southern.)
What You Need to Know About the ADA
It’s important to know that the ADA offers protection from discrimination for individuals who may be “regarded as” disabled.
That is, companies may not make assumptions about people’s physical or mental capabilities or limitations. Individuals who are regarded as disabled may not be subjected to discriminatory treatment including:
- job assignments
- fringe benefits
- any other term or condition of employment
If you believe that your rights have been compromised due to a disability or a perceived disability, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.