You Be The Judge: Was he disabled — or simply tired?
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You Be The Judge: Was he disabled — or simply tired?

Based on the facts presented below, how do you think the court ruled on this employment law case?

Curtis King blinked at his supervisor, Bettina Morales. “I’m fired?” he asked incredulously.

“Yes,” she said. “Your attendance has deteriorated to the point where we just can’t afford to keep you.”

“That’s not fair,” Curtis replied. “With all I told you about my sleep apnea …” his voice trailed off.

“You told me you were having some trouble sleeping,” Bettina said. “But at some point, you’ve got to be able to do your job. When you’re absent 20% of the time, you can’t.”

“It’s more than ‘some trouble’,” Curtis said indignantly. “Don’t you know about sleep apnea? Sometimes it disturbs my sleep so much I can’t be roused in the morning even if I use two alarms and get my wife to slap my face.”

Schedule request
“I gave you a doctor’s note and asked for a flex schedule, so if I can’t wake up on time I can still do my hours,” Curtis said. “But you never responded. Plus, it’s not like I’m the only guy in the department. The work is still getting done.”

“Look, Curtis,” Bettina said. “Your doctor’s note said your condition made you – and I quote – ‘fatigued.’ But everybody gets fatigued. It’s something you just have to deal with.”

“I am trying to deal with it!” he exclaimed. “I got one of those airway machines with a mask, and it helped some, but not enough.”

“I’m sorry,”‘ Bettina said. “Our decision is non-negotiable.”

Curtis sued, claiming the company discriminated against him on the basis of a disability. Did he win?

What do you think, readers? Was Curtis entitled to an ADA Accommodation before getting fired, or did Bettina and the company make the right call? Leave your thoughts in the comments section, and make sure you check back tomorrow morning to find out what actually happened. If you follow us on Twitter, we’ll send out a reminder to come back and find out how the courts ruled.

The Decision

Yes, Curtis won a key court victory when a federal judge refused to dismiss his disability lawsuit as the company wanted. This meant either the company had to face an expensive trial or settle out of court.

It’s true, the judge said, that not every case of sleep apnea qualifies as a disability. But Curtis’s was so severe – tiring him so much that he literally couldn’t be awakened – that a jury might decide it was a disability.

Also, supervisor Bettina couldn’t argue that it would be a hardship to accommodate Curtis with a schedule adjustment; as he pointed out, productivity in the department wasn’t seriously harmed by his fatigue-induced absences.

Attendance annoyance
Poor attendance is a big annoyance for a supervisor. But if employees give you any reason to think a serious health condition is at the root of their absences, you should check with HR before you impose discipline. There could be ADA, FMLA or even workers comp issues that you’re not necessarily equipped to deal with.

Cite: Fuller v. Geithner, No. 09-2216, E.D. Pa., 2/28/11. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

photo credit: star5112

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