Category Archives: Disability Discrimination

Pennsylvania School District Employee Forced to Resign has Age & Disability Discrimination Claims

When an employee “voluntary resigns”, an employee may still prevail in an employment discrimination claim based on age, disability, or other protected criteria. Some employers who have already made a decision to terminate an employee use a tactic where the employer calls an employee to a meeting and the employer states that we are going to terminate if you do not immediately resign. In such instances, when the underlying reason for the termination is protected by the law, courts can find that the “voluntary resignation” is a constructive discharge, which is in effect the same as the termination of employment. In Sorlini v. Wissahickon School District (E., D. Pa. no. 16-1837) (April 5, 2017) (Tucker, C. J.), the court denied the employer’s Motion to Dismiss, found that there was evidence to support a constructive discharge of employment and held that the employee could proceed with his age and disability discrimination claims.

In Sorlini, the employee was a 58-year-old building supervisor for a school district who suffered from heart and knee problems that affected his ability to walk or stand without pain for extended periods of time, which culminated in a heart attack and two knee surgeries. The employee took a significant amount of time off from work. The employee was terminated within 2-3 months after another employee informed him that she overheard the school principal, and a supervisor, discussing the need to terminate his employment due to his illness and numerous sick leaves. The principal met with the employee and expressed concern that he had allowed another employee’s boyfriend on school premises without authorization; the employee denied that he had any knowledge of the boyfriend being present. Prior to the principal’s meeting, the employee had never had his work performance questioned and he had no disciplinary history. The day after the principal’s meeting, the employee was called to a meeting with the employer’s human resources director, chief financial officer, and his supervisor and informed that if he did not resign immediately, he would be terminated for allowing the co-worker’s boyfriend on school premises and that he would not be eligible for disability pension benefits if he was terminated. The employee then signed a resignation letter during the meeting under the threat of immediate termination. The employee was replaced by an employee who was less than 40 years of age. The employee also alleged that there was a liberal practice of allowing individuals who were not school employees on school premises and two custodians, a secretary, and a teacher allowed individuals who were not school employees on the school premises, yet they were not disciplined.

In Sorlini, the employee filed a lawsuit against the school district alleging age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment (ADEA), disability discrimination in violate of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). The employee, alleged that the employer constructively discharged him because of his age and disabilities, and subsequently replaced him with a younger employee.

An employer’s Motion to Dismiss will be denied if the employee alleges a prima facie case of discrimination. To establish a prima facie case of age discrimination an employee must show: (1) the employee is older than 40; (2) the employee was qualified for the position; (3) the employee suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the employee was replaced by a sufficiently younger person or some other evidence to support the inference of age discrimination.

In Sorlini, the employee was 58 years old, he was qualified for the job he performed for 7 years and he was subsequently replaced by a substantially younger person. Thus, the question centered around whether he suffered an adverse employment action despite the fact that he voluntarily resigned. When an employee voluntarily resigns, an adverse employment action exists if the employee was constructively discharged. A constructive discharge is established when a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have had no choice but to resign. When considering whether an employee was constructively discharged, courts look for indicia of coercion, such as threats of termination, suggestions to resign or retire, demotions or reductions in pay or benefits, alterations in job responsibilities, unfavorable performance evaluations, and false accusations of stealing or misconduct.

In Sorlini, the court found that the employee was constructively discharged because he alleged that he was subject to false accusations of misconduct and threats of discharge, he was falsely accused of letting unauthorized personnel on school premises and then told that he would be terminated for his misconduct if he did not resign. The court found that given the time constraint, the employee did not have the opportunity for due deliberation before making the decision to sign a resignation letter, thus, there was evidence that would raise a reasonable expectation of constructive discharge and the court found that the employee had sufficiently raised a claim of age discrimination to survive the motion to dismiss.

The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against an individual with a disability in regard to termination or the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. To establish a prima facie case under the ADA, an employee must show that he is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations and the employ suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination based on a disability. An employee may be qualified to perform the essential functions of a job based on job experience. A discriminatory adverse employment decision due to a disability may be established by a constructive discharge.

In Sorlini, the court found that the employee qualified for protection under the ADA as he alleged several musculoskeletal and cardiovascular physical impairments that limit major life activities, including heart and knee problems that affected his prolonged ability to walk or stand without pain. The court also held that the employee was qualified for the position of bundling supervisor in that he had performed the job for 7 years. Further, as with the age discrimination claim, the court found that there was evidence that could support a constructive discharge of employment which raises the reasonable expectation that Plaintiff suffered a discriminatory adverse employment action due to his disability

Andrew Abramson is a Pennsylvania employment discrimination attorney who represents employees who have been discriminated against based on their age, a disability and other legally protected criteria. For more information on age discrimination see https://www.job-discrimination.com/age-discrimination.html; for more information on disability discrimination see our website at http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126511.htm.

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Filed under Age Discrimination, Americans with Disabilities Act - Disability Discrimination, Constructive Discharge, Disability Discrimination, Montgomery County Employment Discrimination, Philadelphia Employment Law Attorney

Pennsylvania Employee Denied Request to Work From Home Has ADA Disability Discrimination, Reasonable Accommodation & Retaliation Claims

Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who are unable to perform certain work duties. Determining what constitutes a reasonable accommodation is highly fact intensive and requires consideration of a job’s essential requirements. In Slayton v. Sneaker Villa, Inc., E. D. Pa. no. 15-0074 (Goldberg, J.) (March 20, 2017), an employee filed an action under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), alleging that her employer unlawfully terminated her employment by discriminating based on her disability, failing to provide a reasonable accommodation, and retaliation against the employee for requesting a reasonable accommodation. The court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment and held that the Plaintiff could proceed to a jury trial.

In Slayton, the employee was hired as a Corporate Recruiter; 80 days into her employment, the employee was seriously injured in an accident and hospitalized for 5 days, suffering fractures of multiple vertebrae in her neck and back, and a head injury. The employee was out of work for approximately 2 months and then requested the reasonable accommodation of working full-time from home for 4 weeks or until her physical therapy was complete and she was released back to full-time status without restrictions. The employee’s restrictions included no driving, lifting anything heavier than five pounds, no bending or walking, and no sitting or standing for long periods of time. The employer responded to the reasonable accommodation request by asserting that the restrictions prohibited the employee from meeting the job’s requirements and that the employer could not hold her job any longer. The employee then presented another request, to work part-time in the office 10-15 hours per week and the other 25-30 hours from home, noting that she could perform all of the essential functions of the duties with the exception of the job fairs. A dispute then arose as to whether the employee was told that she was terminated (as the employee contested), or if the employer never stated that the employee was terminated and instead was requested to provide a doctor’s note outlining her restrictions. Ultimately, the employer terminated the employee claiming that the employee needed to be in the office full-time, as the job required face-to-face interviews, traveling, attendance at job fairs and other responsibilities that the employee could not perform the job given her physical condition.

An employee may prove disability discrimination by indirect evidence through the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. First, the employee must establish a prima facie case by showing that the employee is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; the employee is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and the employee suffered an adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination. Thereafter, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its adverse employment decision. Then the employee must show that the employer’s reason is pretextual by pointing to evidence from which a factfinder could reasonably either disbelieve the employer’s articulated legitimate reason; or believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer’s action.

In Slayton, the employer argued that the employee could not meet the essential functions of the job which it alleged required physical presence in the office and the ability to travel. Whether a particular function is essential, is a factual determination that is made on a case by case basis. In assessing whether a given job function is essential, courts look at the employer’s judgment as to which functions are essential; job descriptions prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job; the amount of time spent on the job performing the function; the consequences of not requiring the employee to perform the function; and the work experience of past and current employees who perform the same or similar jobs. An employer may be required to restructure a job by reallocating or redistributing nonessential, marginal job functions; however, the employer is not required to reallocate essential functions.

In Slayton, the court found that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether physical presence in the office was an essential job function, in part based on the employee’s testimony that despite her requests to do so, she never actually traveled to any job fairs during her employment. The employee’s pretext evidence consisted of the employee contending that she was fired before the employer ever requesting a doctor’s note and someone else being offered the job before the employee was asked for a doctor note. The court held that a jury could find that the employer’s claim that the reason for termination, the inability to travel and/or be physically present in the office, was unworthy of credence because it had already decided to terminate the employee before meaningfully assessing her inability to perform those functions.

The ADA requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an employee, unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business. To establish that an employer breached its duty to provide a reasonable accommodation, an employee must demonstrate: (1) that the employee was disabled and the employer knew it; (2) the employee requested an accommodation or assistance; (3) the employer did not make a good faith effort to assist; and (4) the employee could have been reasonably accommodated. Once an accommodation is requested, the employer is required to engage in the interactive process during which the employer and employee identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability and the potential reasonable accommodations. Employers may meet their obligation in a number of ways, such as meeting with the employee who requests an accommodation, requesting information about the condition and what limitations the employee has, and offering and discuss available alternatives when a request is too burdensome. A failure to communicate, either by way of initiation or response, may be bad faith.

The term reasonable accommodation is expressly defined to include part-time or modified work schedules. In Slayton, the court held that the fact that the employee modified her request for a temporary accommodation to include working part-time in the office once she was denied the initial request to work from home, created a factual dispute as to whether the employer engaged in good faith as an employer cannot merely dismiss such a request out of hand and a factual question existed as to whether the requested accommodations were facially reasonable, particularly given the temporary nature of the accommodation request.

Andrew Abramson is a Pennsylvania employment law attorney who represents employees who have been discriminated against based on a disability and denied requests for reasonable accommodations. For more information on workplace accommodations and disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and he Pennsylvania Human Relations Act see our website at http://www.job-discrimination.com/lawyer-attorney-1126511.htm.

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Filed under Americans with Disabilities Act - Disability Discrimination, Disability Discrimination, Reasonable Accomodation