• In the Courts (ADA, Race Discrimination, ADA)
  • November 14, 2006
  • Law Firm: McGlinchey Stafford, PLLC - New Orleans Office
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that a truck driver who claimed she was fired because her daughter has a disability could not establish a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA forbids discrimination against an employee “because of the known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a relationship or association,” but does not mandate reasonable accommodation for an employee in such circumstances, the court said. Few courts have had the opportunity to analyze claims under that statute, according to the court, “[t]his court has never done so, only noting in two unpublished decisions that the statute could be used to protect against a limited set of employer actions.”

    The plaintiff claimed that her employer, a transport company, fired her after she told the company she could not drive on a certain Saturday because of obligations to her daughter, and she did not arrange for a substitute. The court found that an employee who cannot meet the attendance requirements of her job is not protected by the statute, therefore, the plaintiff could not claim that the company discriminated against her by not granting her sufficient time off or allowing her to modify her schedule so that she could care for her daughter.

    “Courts have surmised that an employee would be protected under the statute if the employee was only distracted at work, but did not require a reasonable accommodation, or if the employer’s decision was based solely on the unsubstantiated belief that the employee would have to miss work because of the association.” Neither scenario applied to this case, the court found.

    In a case before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, a human resources office employee lost her appeal alleging racial discrimination regardless of the fact that — during the year she worked at the company — she had complained about racist comments and that her supervisor showed favoritism to white employees and indifference to her.

    A co-worker reported to a supervisor that the employee was using her computer to help another employee with his master’s thesis. An audit of the employee’s computer hard drive found that she had visited hundreds of nonwork-related Internet sites, and that she had downloaded images of nude and partly-nude males. The plaintiff admitted some personal use of the Internet, but said she had permission from a former supervisor because her own computer was damaged. The former supervisor stated that the permission had been a “temporary accommodation.”

    The plaintiff also stated that the photographs of nude men resulted from inappropriate e-mails from a co-worker, about which she had complained, and she pointed out that any employee with a “swipe card” could have accessed her computer. The employer countered that its computer system required each employee to log on with a unique user name, confidential password, and assigned address, a procedure the employee acknowledged.

    Her employer said she was terminated for “gross violation” of its computer policy. When her suit before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa alleging racial animus and retaliation for complaints she made about race discrimination was dismissed, she appealed. The appeals court award showed the company fired the employee because she used her computer and Internet excessively for personal reasons.

    As a follow-up on a previously reported case, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision that United Parcel Service Inc. violated the ADA by refusing to consider deaf workers for jobs driving the company’s smaller vehicles, which are not covered by the Department of Transportation’s hearing standard. In doing so it rejected the company’s argument that the workers had the burden to show that they can perform the job safely; they merely had to show that they met all the requirements for the job other than the challenged criterion, the court said.