Failure to Reassign Employee With Disability Comes Back to Haunt the City of Philadelphia

Had the city of Philadelphia made an effort to reassign a disabled sanitation worker rather than fire him, it wouldn’t now be under court supervision for its actions.

But then again, it would also have not learned a valuable lesson in what the law requires when an employee with a disability can’t do his regular job but is still employable in some other job.

The complaint in this case was filed against the city by the U.S. Department of Justice, which enforces the Americans With Disabilities Act against cities, based on a referral from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to the DOJ complaint, the employee, who worked for the city as a sanitation worker, was terminated from his position after he had a heart attack and his doctor placed him under a 20-pound lifting restriction, which prevented him from continuing as a sanitation worker.  Although the employee made several requests for reassignment and the city had numerous vacant positions, the city failed to consider the employee for reassignment to a different position for which he was qualified.  Instead, the city terminated the employee because of his disability.

Under the proposed consent decree, which is subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the city’s streets department must revise its policies to ensure that reassignment is considered as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities, train relevant employees on the ADA and report to the Justice Department on implementation of the decree.

The city will also offer to reinstate and reassign the employee to an open position for which he is qualified and will pay the employee a total of $90,000 for back pay, accrued interest and compensatory damages.

“Firing an employee because of a disability in these circumstances constitutes discrimination and violates the ADA,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “Just because an employee’s disability prevents them from working in one position does not disqualify them from working successfully in a different position.  We commend the city of Philadelphia for agreeing to revise its policies and offering to reinstate the former employee.”

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