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Insufficient Evidence of Pretext in Reduction-In-Force ADA Case


So-called reduction-in-force (RIF) cases can be very challenging when it comes to proving discriminatory demotion or termination. This is mainly true because the employer typically has what appears to be a legitimate business reason for the demotion or termination. Proving otherwise is often difficult. As a recent case in Texas demonstrates, the evidence required to prove these cases may be hard to obtain.

Caldwell v. KHOU-TV

The case of Caldwell v. KHOU-TV involved a disabled employee who claimed he was denied the chance to perform certain job duties which were necessary to keep his job during a reduction-in-force. Gerald Caldwell was a video editor for the Texas television station. His disability was based on bone cancer from which he suffered as a child and required him to wear a leg brace. It was Caldwell's claim that the television station refused to give him the opportunity to train for electronic digital recording (EDR) tasks.

Failure to provide training opportunities

This may have been a significant fact in light of the fact that the station indicated it eliminated Caldwell's position because he had the least amount of EDR experience compared to the other video editors at the station. According to Caldwell's allegations, he was denied the opportunity to train because of his disability. He says one of his supervisors stopped scheduling him for EDR duties because he was afraid Caldwell would be injured because of "the tight EDR work space." Despite Caldwell's claims, the court did not find any evidence that the station actually denied Caldwell training or other opportunities that would have allowed him to "improve his performance relative to his peers" with respect to EDR tasks.

The Basics of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

There are many federal statutes that protect individuals from discrimination based on certain protected categories. These categories include race, sex or gender, religious beliefs, age, among others. Individuals with disabilities are also protected by a federal statute called the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, also known as the "ADA."

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against "qualified" individuals with disabilities with regard to employment decisions. The prohibition extends to job application procedures, hiring and firing practices and policies, promotions, discipline, compensation, job training and many other "terms, conditions and privileges of employment.

Which employers are required to comply with the ADA?

The ADA applies to employers that have at least fifteen (15) employees. The term "employers" includes private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions. There is a companion statutory law that applies to federal sector employees, known as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Are you protected by the ADA as an employee?

The ADA only provides protection to qualified individuals. This means you must meet certain requirements in order to be protected. An individual with a disability is defined as someone who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • Has a record of such an impairment; or
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

In order to be considered a "qualified" employee or applicant with a disability, you must be able to "perform the essential functions" of the job, with or without a "reasonable accommodation." Some examples of reasonable accommodations include:

  • Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
  • Job restructuring, modifying work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position;
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Michel | King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.

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