MDOC loses age and disability discrimination claim brought by prison guard
Robert Howard secured a verdict against his employer, the Michigan Department of Corrections, after alleging age and disability discrimination. Howard was a member of the age-protected group, since he was 64 at the time of the alleged disrimination. His job included instructing prisoners in a building trades program where the Department admitted he was "not required to perform physical management of prisoners in the form of take-downs or cell extractions on a daily basis." In his employment role, the Department admitted that less than 5% of his time was dedicated to responding to prisoner disturbances.
When Howard sought a one-day sick leave because his back was giving him trouble and he had taken Flexeril, his supervisor disqualified him from returning to work. He was labeled physically unqualified, even though his back injury stemmed from a military injury forty years ago and he had worked in his present capacity, without difficulty, for nine years. Howard alleged that the employer provided his doctor with an inaccurate job description which resulted in physician-ordered restrictions that improperly disqualified him from returning to work. The Court that taken together the facts of the case were adequate to support the jury's finding of discrimination. It concluded that "because of the myths, fears and stereotypes associated with" people with back problems, his employer had illegally inflicted an adverse employment action against Howard.