Bridge Worker With Fear of Heights Gets ADA Trial

Because a reasonable jury could find that the Illinois Department of Transportation regarded a bridge worker as disabled because of his fear of heights, he is entitled to trial on his claim that his discharge and lack of reasonable accommodation violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in May.

Here’s an important excerpt from the opinion:

“After the March 23, 2006 panic attack above the Mississippi River, Miller was formally diagnosed with acrophobia. IDOT immediately precluded him from performing any task required of the bridge crew, even tasks that could be performed from the ground let alone from a secure, unexposed height. IDOT forced him on nonoccupational disability leave and exaggerated the relatively modest effects of the acrophobia. Even after two psychiatrists cleared him for work without any significant restrictions, IDOT continued to preclude Miller from returning to any and all tasks performed by the bridge crew. According to the record, those tasks included everything from the maintenance and operation 14 of vehicles and equipment to spreading salt and gravel,cutting grass, and directing traffic. In other words, IDOT treated Miller as though he was unable to perform awide range of jobs. A reasonable jury could find from this evidence that IDOT regarded Miller as disabled by his acrophobia under the law before the 2008 amendments.”

Those amendments didn’t take effect until 2009, but under them a person may be “regarded as” disabled if the person “has been subjected to an action prohibited under this Act because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.”

The court also decided a jury should determine whether Miller had the right to his requested accommodation that other members of his crew substitute for him when a task required working above 25 feet in an exposed or extreme position.

To read the opinion, click here. To get one employment lawyer’s take on the decision, go here.

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