$1.2 Million Judgment in Disability Case
Tammy Calef worked for FedEx as a service manager until February 2004, when, after having injured her hand, she was eventually told to go home, stay home and apply for short-term disability benefits. Before that instruction, however, Calef was scheduled by upper-level supervisors to drive a van and deliver packages, despite the hand injury. After two days, her hand got worse.
Despite the severity of Calef’s injury, FedEx continued to assign delivery duties to her. In early February 2004, Steve Hickman, the human resources manager, asked Calef if she was “sending out résumés.” Hickman offered her three months’ severance with medical benefits until the end of the year. Calef complained to manager Kyle Ryan, but for the next week Ryan sent daily notes to Hickman documenting problems with Calef’s performance unrelated to her hand injury. On February 13, 2004, Calef was assigned a delivery route consisting of more than 70 stops. She soon went back to Ryan and said, “My hand cannot do this.” Calef furnished doctors’ notes as requested and continued to work until she was told that she was to go home and told that she could not return to work until she presented a full release from her doctor.
Calef sued under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, alleging disability-based discrimination. A jury awarded Calef $1.2 million. FedEx appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit affirmed, finding that FedEx objectively treated Calef as disabled and that FedEx violated the company’s reasonable accommodation process by failing to explore with Calef whether she could remain on the job if provided with an accommodation, arbitrarily requiring her to take disability leave. Calef v. FedEx Ground Package Sys. Inc., 4th Cir., No. 08-2031, unpublished opinion (8/27/09).
Impact: Employers must always engage in an interactive process with employees seeking job accommodations. Employers should not assume that an employee is no longer able to perform the essential functions of her job with or without an accommodation, without speaking with the employee and receiving a doctor’s documentation of the impairment.
Workforce Management, October 19, 2009, p. 12 -- Subscribe Now!
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