A man at USPS only worked for a week in nearly three years due to an injury sustained at work. After he and his employers reached an agreement for his return, he failed to comply with the terms and was fired. Was it discrimination?
The former employee worked as a part-time mail handler for the USPS in Milwaukee, WI. He took two weeks off from work in 1998 after injuring himself on the job. He was injured again in May 2003, and until his termination in January 2006, only worked one week in July 2003. During that extended period of time, the man’s supervisor tried to get him to return to work or provide proper documentation regarding his injury. Attempts at contacting the worker’s union were unsuccessful, so the supervisor sent the man a letter in February 2005, saying that he would be fired for absence without leave, not maintaining a regular schedule and not following instructions in reference to eligible leave. The union filed a grievance on the man’s behalf.
The employee and the USPS reached an agreement. The man would return to work if a physician okayed him, and if he was unable to return for full duty, he would apply for disability retirement. Two doctors cleared him for work but implemented restrictions: transporting items under 25 pounds and avoiding repeated movement or standing for lengthy durations. The USPS had intended “full duty” to mean working with no restrictions, so a USPS rep declared him “unfit” to return. The man neither resigned nor filed for disability retirement and was subsequently terminated, having not met the terms of the agreement.
The former mail handler filed a grievance in arbitration, citing disability discrimination, but the arbitrator dismissed the claim, concluding that it was unsuitable for arbitration. A three-year EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) investigation likewise saw no discrimination having taken place. The man then filed a complaint in federal court. He alleged that he was regarded as disabled by his employers, and he sought damages and reinstatement.
The plaintiff argued a violation of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and claimed that the “100% healed clause” of the agreement violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The USPS countered by stating that it did not consider the man disabled, and even if he could establish a case for discrimination, their reason for firing him was not based on a disability but rather his lack of attendance at work and failure to comply with the agreement. The district court ruled in favor of the USPS. It acknowledged that the settlement term which demanded that the man have no medical restrictions was a violation of the Rehabilitation Act, but, as the plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the Act, he was not covered.
Appellate judges agreed with the district court’s decision to disregard the ADA claim, as a 2009 Amendment concerning the “regarded as” definition of disability was not in effect at the time of the alleged discrimination. They likewise found that the man was unable to prove a record of disability or establish the fact that he was regarded as disabled. The appeals court affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the USPS.USPS Mail Handler Claims That He Was Fired for His Disability by Harrison Barnes