Monday, April 7, 2008

Huge Decision affecting disabled worker's in Connecticut

The Connecticut Supreme Court has issued a critically important decision concerning what reasonable accommodations an employer must make for an injured working before terminating him. The full text of the article which I am providing appears in the Connecticut Law Tribune.

Attorney Rick Hayber, referred to in the article is my go to guy for all labor law issues. If you have been injured on the job it is critical you speak with an informed worker's compensation lawyer. Call me today to discuss your situation.

The Article in question:
Disabled Workers To Benefit From Decision

Employer must discuss solution, or firing is wrongful

By THOMAS B. SCHEFFEY

The state Supreme Court ruled Monday that even though Connecticut’s Fair Employment Practices Act doesn’t include the “reasonable accommodation” language of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the same principle applies.

Furthermore, unless the employer engages in at least an informal dialogue with a disabled employee, he or she can’t just be fired.

“Although this court never has addressed whether [FEPA] imposes a duty on employers to provide reasonable accommodation to their disabled employees, the question has been addressed by the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities,” Justice Joette Katz wrote for the unanimous court. The CHRO’s decisions, for the past 12 years at least, have recognized such a right for disabled workers, as have trial court decisions.

The Supreme Court acknowledged that employers can defend themselves against discrimination suits by showing that a job requires specific occupational qualifications. Nevertheless, the justices found, employers using the bona fide occupational qualification defense still must show that they tried to find reasonable accommodations.

“[O]ur thorough review of the legislative history reveals a consistent intent to increase protections for individuals with disabilities,” and to stamp out discrimination based on physical and a wide range of other disabilities, the court wrote.

A great majority of states have found a reasonable accommodation requirement in their antidiscrimination statutes, often through judicial interpretation, and the high court joined it.

Injured Back

The plaintiff, John P. Curry, was a truck driver for Allan S. Goodman Inc., an East Hartford liquor distributor. He injured his back, and was allowed to work in the warehouse filling “split” cartons with various brands.

The work occasionally required stocking supply shelves from unopened boxes, which weighed more than Curry’s doctor said he should lift. After a rancorous dispute over job duties, Curry was dismissed for being unable to do his work.

Curry’s lawyer for the past seven years has been Richard E. Hayber, of Hartford. Two days after Curry’s firing, Haber wrote to the former employers and asked for a discussion. “I said ‘please.’ He wanted his job back, he didn’t want a lawsuit,” said Haber in an interview. In light of today’s decision, he said, “Writing that letter was the smartest thing I’ve ever done.”

The company had an internal policy that light duty work could only be temporary. When Curry subsequently sued for wrongful discharge, he contended Goodman’s policy represented illegal discrimination against the permanently disabled.

The company’s failure to even consult with the former employee about a possible reasonable accommodation in the warehouse was itself grounds to get Curry a trial, Hayber argued.

On a motion for summary judgment, Goodman lawyers argued that the company cannot be required to create new permanent jobs for the disabled. Hartford Superior Court Judge Robert F. Stengel granted summary judgment for the company.

The Supreme Court reversed, concluding that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether Curry was able to work, so summary judgment was improper. Curry was able to work 10-hour shifts when he was discharged, and even though he couldn’t lift full cases, he could load bottles into an empty carton and move it on a hand truck, almost as fast.

Goodman was defended by Glenn A. Duhl and George J. Kelly, Jr., of Hartford’s Siegel, O’Connor O’Donnell & Beck, who could not be reached at press time.

“I’m so happy for my client,” said Hayber. “John’s a poster child for Connecticut workers who break their backs for their employers, and then get cast out without even a conversation over the phone. This case says that’s just not right.”•

1 comment:

Richard E. Hayber said...

As Mr. Curry's attorney, I am very proud of this decision and pleased that our Supreme Court stepped up to the plate.

This case holds once and for all that workers who have chronic impairments must be accommodated in the workplace. This case compliments the ideas behind the "light duty" requirements of Sec. 31-313. Hopefully, it will help workers compensation attorneys whose clients want to return to work.