Employers facing workplace discrimination claims in the 6th Circuit should find some comfort in the court’s recent decision in DeBra v. JP Morgan Chase & Co., which endorses a heightened standard for plaintiffs to demonstrate that they were treated less favorably than similarly situated employees outside their protected class.

The plaintiff worked as a bank teller for Chase until she was terminated for on-the-job errors, such as overpaying customers, leaving bank funds unsecured on counters and accidentally failing to return bank cards to several customers. She alleged, however, that the bank’s reliance on these errors for her termination was really a pretext for age discrimination because other, younger tellers committed the same errors yet were retained.


Continue Reading Sixth Circuit decision shows similarly situated employees must truly be similarly situated in discrimination cases

As many of you know, we have been keeping up on the growing litigation involving the accessibility of websites under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in our past posts: “Florida federal judge holds that supermarket chain’s website must be accessible to disabled” and “ADA public accommodations law reform on its way?” Many stakeholders have urged that websites of businesses that operate public accommodations should be accessible to the WCAG 2.0 AA standard. WCAG is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the private organization focused on improving the Internet experience and who develops recommendations for website accessibility. There are levels of “success criteria:” A, AA and AAA—in increasing levels of accessibility. The government recently issued regulations requiring federal government websites to be accessible to the WCAG 2.0 AA standard and often insists on this same level of compliance when it settles enforcement actions against private businesses.
Continue Reading Adding more confusion to the world of website accessibility, WCAG 2.1 has been published

Yesterday (Feb. 15, 2018), The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, the ADA Education and Reform Act (HB 620), that would impose new requirements on plaintiffs before they file a lawsuit. Places of public accommodations, including websites and apps, would have 6 months to bring their place of public accommodation into compliance before a claimant could file a lawsuit seeking injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees.

Any employer who is also a place of public accommodation knows that lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III have long posed a problem for businesses. Businesses want to comply but are often unaware of minor issues of noncompliance at their facilities. This law, if it passes the Senate and is signed by President Trump, would allow businesses notice of the alleged issues of noncompliance and a grace period to fix the issues before they would face potential liability for attorneys’ fees and costs.


Continue Reading ADA public accommodations law reform on its way?

Rejecting the EEOC’s position that an employer must reassign a qualified individual with a disability to a vacant position as a reasonable accommodation so long as the individual was minimally qualified for the position, the 11th Circuit on Dec. 7, 2016 held that even disabled workers in need of a reasonable accommodation must compete with other qualified employees for the vacancy. In EEOC v. St. Joseph’s Hosp., Inc., the plaintiff was a nurse who needed a cane for mobility. Because the cane posed a safety hazard in the psychiatric ward where she worked, she was given the opportunity to apply for other jobs, but was not given any preference due to her disability. When she did not obtain any other position at the hospital, she was terminated and the EEOC brought suit on her behalf.

After a jury trial resulted in a defense verdict, the trial court entered an injunction order requiring the hospital to mediate, which failed to result in reinstatement. On appeal, the 11th Circuit expressly addressed the question, “Does the ADA mandate noncompetitive reassignment?” The court concluded that the ADA does not require such preferential treatment of the disabled. In reaching this conclusion, the court relied on the statutory language that includes “reassignment to a vacant position” as part of a non-exhaustive list of items that the term reasonable accommodation “may include.” According to the court, the use of the word “may” implies that reassignment will be reasonable in some circumstances but not others.
Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit rejects EEOC position regarding reassignment as a reasonable accommodation

On April 16, 2015, the EEOC released its long-anticipated proposed rule on the extent to which the ADA permits employers to offer incentives to employees to promote participation in wellness programs that are employee health programs. For the most part, the rule reflects the EEOC’s efforts to make the ADA’s requirements consistent with the requirements

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the Michigan district court’s ruling in Keith v. County of Oakland, finding a deaf applicant’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) may have been violated when Oakland County (“the County”) revoked its job offer to hire him as a lifeguard.
Continue Reading Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover! The Sixth Circuit Provides Employers With A Roadmap For Hiring Persons With Disabilities

Two of the more difficult reasonable accommodation requests that employers see are requests to be excused from shift and/or job rotation requirements. Last week, the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held in Kallail v. Alliant Energy Corporate Services, Inc. that an employer’s shift rotation requirement was an essential job function that permitted the employer to deny an employee’s request to be excused from the requirement as a reasonable accommodation for her Type I diabetes.
Continue Reading Eighth Circuit Holds Shift Rotation Can Be An Essential Job Function

Presume for a moment an employee complains to Human Resources that a co-worker’s perfume makes her want to choke. The workplace sometimes brings us "closer" together and one worker’s scent can be another worker’s source of distraction or even discomfort. If the complaining employee’s problem is just a matter of personal preference, then the employer has no legal duty to take action, but may want to explore a diplomatic way to resolve the dispute. On the other hand, a recent decision by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio shows that, in some circumstances, this issue can result in a legal challenge.

In Core v. Champaign Cty. Board of County Commissioners, (S.D. Ohio No. 3:11-CV-00166), an employee sued the County under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and under Ohio disability discrimination law for not accommodating her request for a "fragrance-free" workplace policy. The employee suffered from severe asthma and chemical sensitivity to certain perfumes and other scents. She began experiencing difficulty breathing at work when co-workers in her proximity were wearing a perfume called "Japanese Cherry Blossom." According to the Complaint, her initial request that the employer ask employees to refrain from wearing that perfume went unheeded. Her symptoms became more severe and eventually she had to have emergency medical treatment.

Shortly after the employee sought medical treatment, co-workers began to mock her, including in Facebook posts making fun of her condition. She also alleges that employees began to wear the perfume intentionally around her and that the employer took no action to stop this conduct.

The employee presented a request to the employer signed by a nurse practitioner asking that co-workers be advised of the employee’s sensitivity and that they be asked to avoid use of the perfume. The employer apparently communicated by email to employees asking that they not approach the employee personally, and instead communicate with her only by telephone or email. The employer also asked the employee to attempt to have face-to-face conversations with staff only in well-ventilated, open areas of the office.


Continue Reading Employer Refusal to Provide a “Fragrance-Free” Workplace May Violate ADA

Employers often defend against discrimination and retaliation claims by arguing that courts should not act like super human resources managers who second guess their employment decisions. A panel of the Sixth Circuit took that argument to heart in its May 8th decision in Seeger v. Cincinnati Bell Telephone Co., in which the court upheld summary judgment in favor of the employer on the ground that the employer had an “honest belief” that the plaintiff had engaged in disability fraud.

Tom Seeger was on FMLA leave for aback injury when he was spotted at the Cincinnati Oktoberfest by several of his co-workers. One of the employees contacted human resources to say at Seeger was able to walk 50 to 75 feet, seemingly unimpaired. During the employer’s investigation, however, others remarked that Seeger seemed to to be in pain. The employer’s investigation investigation also included an interview of Seeger and a review of his medical records, disability file and employment history. Seeger was suspended and was given an opportunity to submit a statement as well as a statement from his physician. After considering all of this information, the employer decided that Seeger’s activity at Oktoberfest was inconsistent with his claimed disability and terminated him for disability fraud.

Seeger filed suit for interference with his FMLA rights and for retaliation in violation of the FMLA. With respect to the interference claim, the court concluded that Seeger had been given all of the FMLA leave he had requested since he had actually returned to full duty during the course of the investigation. With respect to the retaliation claim, the court noted the closeness in time between the FMLA leave and the termination, but concluded that CBT made a “reasonably informed and considered decision” before it terminated Seeger, and that Seeger has failed to show that CBT’s decision-making process was unworthy of credence.


Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Rejects FMLA Retaliation Claim Based On Employer’s Honest Belief That Employee Had Committed Fraud

In 1999, in Cleveland v. Policy Mgmt. Sys. Corp., the U.S. Supreme Court held that in order to avoid summary judgment in a disability discrimination case brought under the ADA, a plaintiff must provide a "sufficient" explanation regarding any conflicting statements made in a Social Security disability application.  According to the Supreme Court, that explanation