Sixth Circuit upholds dismissal of ADA claim; reverses dismissal of FMLA claim.
In Daugherty v. Sajar Plastics, Inc., the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of an Americans with Disabilities Act claim, but reinstated a Family Medical Leave Act claim brought by a discharged employee. The Plaintiff was a maintenance technician whose job presented significant physical demands. He had suffered a back in jury in the 1980s and it "flared up" a couple of years after he started working at the defendant's plant. He was prescribed Oxycontin and Duragesic, and initially suffered dizziness and disorientation, requiring a three month respite from dangerous electrical work. When he had developed a tolerance for the pain medicine he was re-assigned to his normal duties.
Over the next few years, Daugherty experienced periodic exacerbation of his symptoms, requiring brief FMLA leaves, ranging from 2 days to 2 weeks. In October of 2003, he claims that he was given the choice of taking a disability retirement or being fired. He sought a two-month leave but was allegedly told that there would be no job for him after a leave of that duration. Daugherty took the leave, but when he returned he was told that he had been laid-off as the tech with the lowest seniority. Daugherty could not dispute the need to lay off one person in his department or the fact that he had the lowest seniority.
Several months later, the defendant was in a position to re-hire a technician and offered the job to Daugherty, if he passed a physical given by Sajar's contract physician. The doctor concluded that Daugherty was physically able to work, but refused to approve his return, due to his use of opiods for pain management: the doctor suggested taking the medication would "mask" a further injury and could render Daugherty a risk to himself or others. Daugherty's physician rejected that claim, noting that Daugherty had been stable on his medications and doing the same work for years. Sajar filled the position with a new employee when Daugherty could not document that he would reduce or eliminate his medications.
Daugherty sued, alleging that his discharge violated the ADA and was a retaliation for his FMLA leave. The District Court held that he did not demonstrate an "ADA-qualifying impairment" or a breach of the FMLA. Daugherty appealed, claiming that Sajar illegally regarded him as "disabled", making its actions a violation of the ADA (which prohibits discrimination based upon the "myths, fears, and stereotypes associated with disability") and also challenging the FMLA retaliation decision. The Sixth Circuit concluded that his employer did not consider Daugherty "disabled"; merely unable to perform his job for safety reasons. On that basis, it denied his ADA claim. It reversed the FMLA claim, however, noting that his evidence implying retaliation created a material fact to be decided by jurors and not by the Court.