Court Decisions Brief
A project of the Southeast ADA Center and Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University

McClain v. Tenax Corp.

McClain v. Tenax Corp.,
304 F. Supp. 3d 1195 (S.D. Ala. 2018)

Keywords: ADA, summary judgment, discrimination, retaliation

Summary

Terry E. McClain is a person born with hand and foot disabilities. He is suing his employer, Tenax Corporation, for discrimination and retaliation under the ADA. Tenax moved for summary judgment. The Southern District Court granted summary judgment for retaliation under the ADA, but denied summary judgment for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.

Facts of the Case

McClain worked as a janitor at Tenax from 2014 to 2016. He worked 40 hours per week until the fall of 2015 when Tenax laid off some workers due to a slowdown in production. McClain’s position was reduced to a 20-hour, part-time janitor position.

In January 2016, McClain was offered a machine operator position that he turned down because he would not be able to perform the essential duties. He was later offered a position to wrap pallets, which he accepted and performed alongside his janitorial position. Therefore, McClain’s work hours increased from 20 to 40 hours per week. Due to the nature of the work and his hand and foot disabilities, McClain had difficulty wrapping the pallets and also doing his janitor job. He received criticism from Tenax Managers.

After two days on the job, McClain went to the plant manager’s office to tell him he could not do the job. The manager told McClain to do as much as he could. McClain then reported, on a weekly basis, to both the plant manager and safety manager about his inability to carry out the pallet-wrapping job. He asked to return to his janitorial position full-time, but he was told that he could keep working both jobs “or quit.” After he reported several other times, he spoke to the plant manager by phone saying he could not do the pallet-wrapping job anymore. Later, he spoke to the safety manager in person. The safety manager’s reply was “I'm sorry it came down to this.” McClain then went into his office, picked up his belongings and left. He was not directly told he was fired.

Issues of the Case

  1. Did McClain have a genuine claim based on the fact that Tenax did not accommodate him as required by the ADA?
  2. Did McClain have a genuine claim that Tenax knowingly and wrongfully retaliated against him for his request for accommodations under the ADA?

Arguments & Analysis

1. Does McClain have a genuine claim based on the fact that Tenax did not accommodate him as required by ADA Title I?

A “genuine claim” means there is a real dispute as to the facts of the case. If there is no dispute, meaning there is no “genuine claim”, about the facts, one of two things would occur. The case could either 1) not go before a jury or, 2) a jury could only rule in favor of the party that filed the motion, in this case, Tenax. This is also known as “summary judgement”.

Under the ADA, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a person who is qualified for a job because that person has a disability. To show there was employment discrimination under the ADA, McClain must prove that: 1) he had a disability, 2) he was a “qualified individual “who was able to do the job, and 3) his employer discriminated against him because of his disability. McClain can meet each of these requirements by showing that the employer did not provide reasonable accommodations for the disability.

Tenax claimed that McClain did not have a disability because his hand and foot disabilities did not limit his major life activity of work.

McClain says that his disability substantially limited his ability to do the pallet-wrapping job. McClain’s hands and feet were “sore and aching” due to the holding and climbing required by the job. Tenax officials constantly complained about his slow pace on the job.

McClain told Tenax several times that he was not able to do the pallet-wrapping job. Based on this, the court decided the facts showed it was unclear whether McClain had a disability that affected his major life activity of work.

Tenax also said that McClain's requested accommodation, a full-time janitorial position, was not reasonable and was beyond what the law requires. They said they cannot be responsible for providing, a full-time janitorial job, when no such job was available.

But, Tenax hired a janitor in May 2016. Therefore, the court decided that McClain had shown there were real disputes between himself and Tenax about whether a full-time janitorial position was available as an accommodation.

2. Does McClain have a genuine claim that Tenax retaliated against him for his request for accommodations under the ADA?

A “genuine claim” means there is a real dispute as to the facts of the case. If there is, no dispute or “genuine claim,” about the facts, one of two things could occur. The case could either 1) not go before a jury or, 2) a jury could only rule in favor of the party that filed the motion, in this case, Tenax. This ruling is also known as “summary judgement”.

The ADA addresses “anti-retaliation.” This means an employer cannot discriminate against a person because they opposed an illegal act under the ADA, such as employment discrimination. 

McClain said Tenax failed to accommodate him by not hiring him full-time and instead, hired another full-time janitor. The Court ruled that McClain did show a possible adverse employment action. However, the Court decided that McClain did not show a link between his being fired and his opposing Tenax’s decision not to hire him full-time.

The Court said that just denying a request for a reasonable accommodation would not allow an ADA retaliation claim because that would allow plaintiffs to argue failure to accommodation and retaliation claims every time a request to accommodation was denied.

The court further said that an employer's reply to a request for an accommodation of "no" or "absolutely not" or even "do your job or quit" does not satisfy the legal standard of an "adverse employment action" because that would not prevent a reasonable employee from requesting an accommodation. A request for accommodation comes with the understanding that it could be denied. Therefore, it cannot be considered an adverse employment action simply by being denied.

Rulings

The Court agreed with Tenax’s request for summary judgment as to McClain’s retaliation claim because he could not show any genuine issue for trial.

But Tenax’s motion for summary judgment was denied as to McClain’s claim of failure to provide accommodation, which left issues to be determined at trial.

Policy & Practice

Summary judgment is granted only if the party that has filed a motion with a court, is able to show that there is no real argument as to the facts and is entitled to win its argument as a matter of law.

Links

Disclaimer:

These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation. These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time.  In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.

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