Remember the case of the bridge worker who won his ADA case on account of his fear of heights? Consider the story of the utility company lineman who can’t climb utility poles.
Eric Rico was a lineman for the Southwestern Public Service Company. He suffered a back injury that required surgery.
Following the procedure, his physician said Rico could return to work, but he couldn’t lift heavy objects or climb poles — two seemingly sensible requirements for fulfilling the job as a lineman.
Rico requested a transfer to a job that didn’t include heavy lifting or pole climbing. Southwestern recommended Rico apply for long-term disability benefits and terminated him.
Later, the company offered Rico a job as a substation electrician — but at a lower salary than he’d been earning as a lineman. The company also rescinded Rico’s three years of seniority.
ADA Amendments Act rears its ugly head
Rico took the lower-paying position, but subsequently sued, saying the company had violated his rights under ADA by firing him.
The company countered that Rico’s back injury wasn’t a “disability,” because it didn’t substantially limit his ability to engage in “major life activities.”
But the court, citing the recent ADA Amendments Act, disagreed. After surgery, his doctor had ordered limitations on his physical activities, the judge said, adding that the company had also recommended that Rico apply for long-term disability benefits.
Adding those factors together, was “sufficient to raise an inference that (Rico) was disabled at the time of his termination,” the judge wrote.
So Rico’s case grinds on — meaning there’ll either be an expensive settlement or an expensive trial. Either way, the company loses.