Worker’s Sleep Disorder Discrimination Claim Reinstated

By Judy Greenwald

Aug. 28, 2012

A federal appeals court August 27 reinstated a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by a worker who said his sleep disorder and related medical problems meant he should only work regular day positions, without rotations to different shifts or overtime.

According to the ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in David Feldman v. Olin Corp. et. al., because of Feldman’s problems with fibromyalgia and sleep apnea, his doctors had advised him to work regular, daytime shifts at his job as a tractor operator at a manufacturing facility in East Alton, Illinois. Fibromyalgia symptoms include widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue.

During the period at issue, the facility was first owned by Clayton, Missouri-based Olin Corp., then by East Alton-based GBC Metals L.L.C.

Feldman worked daytime shifts at the plant until the work was realigned in May 2007, and he was asked to work different shifts on a rotating basis. “Although he tried to work under the new regime for a few weeks, Feldman found that his fatigue and pain made it impossible for him to do so,” said the ruling.

After he asked for a straight-day shift in May 2007, he was laid off. He was rehired, though, in December, 2007, after he bid on, and was awarded, a position working straight days as a tractor operator, according to the ruling. He has continued to work at the plant since then.

Feldman filed suit against his employers on charges including violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and with engaging in retaliation once he returned to work. A district court concluded Feldman could not show he was disabled, and dismissed the case.

But the appellate court reinstated Feldman’s disability claim. When “the record is viewed in the light most favorable to Feldman there is a dispute of material fact” on the threshold issue of whether he is disabled, said the three-judge panels’ unanimous ruling.”

Feldman “presented significant evidence of severe sleep problems resulting from sleep apnea and fibromyalgia, including medical evidence from his treating physicians and the results of a sleep study,” said the ruling.

The court said: “Feldman has presented enough evidence to establish a genuine dispute of material fact about his qualification to work available straight-time positions, and Olin did not offer him those positions.”

The court upheld the lower court’s dismissal of Feldman’s retaliation claims, concluding “they were properly dismissed for lack of evidence.”

Judy Greenwald writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management.

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