A 'pain in my butt': UPS manager's comments factor in decision to send ADA case to trial
- Noting that a variety factors weighed in favor of sending a UPS employee's Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim to trial, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's summary judgment for the employer (Rowlands v. United Parcel Service, No. 17-3281 (7th Cir., Aug. 24, 2018)).
- The employee alleged that she was fired because of her impairment and, according to the court, there were several factors that would allow a reasonable juror to reach that conclusion. Among other things, she alleged that: (1) her employee ID was never reinstated following a leave of absence; (2) she was "put under a microscope" and subjected to new rules that applied only to her; (3) she was rebuffed repeatedly when she tried to discuss her limitations; and (4) her supervisor complained that she "has been a constant pain in my butt" and "that management has been on me continually about this."
- "In the end a jury might not credit [Rowlands’] evidence and could accept [UPS'] explanations," the court said. "But given the conflict on material issues, a trial is necessary."
Experts continue to cite front-line managers as a leading cause of employment law violations. For one thing, supervisors too often wear their hearts on their sleeves, speakers told attendees at a recent conference. They also fail to enforce policies consistently — both problems that allegedly arose in Rowland.
To combat this issue, HR must ensure that managers are properly trained. When it comes to the ADA, some employers prefer to have managers escalate all issues to HR, training them only to recognize accommodation requests. Others, however, have found success with training managers to handle the simple requests, giving them a primer on the law's interactive process and equipping them with a script for when co-workers inevitably have questions.
That's one particularly difficult part of compliance for supervisors. Supervisors often are wary of providing special treatment, but that's exactly what the ADA requires, David K. Fram, director of the National Employment Law Institute's ADA & Equal Employment Opportunity Services, said at another recent conference. "I would train your supervisors that they must give more to people who need a reasonable accommodation," he said. This is, even in the language of the courts, "preferential treatment."
Finally, managers involved in the interactive process need to be trained to document every step of the way. Thorough documentation can serve an employer well in court, experts say. It should show what the employee requested, how the manager responded and that the manager has periodically followed up to make sure the accommodation is working. Documentation can be even more important if the employer has ultimately determined that there is no accommodation available, or that only a temporary accommodation can be offered.