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District Court Upholds Disability Claim for Employer’s Failure to Perform an Individualized Inquiry into Employee’s Medical Condition

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In EEOC v. Kyklos Bearings Int’l, LLC, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio denied summary judgment for Kyklos, an Ohio bearings manufacturer, in an Americans with Disability Act (ADA) case. The district court held that a company doctor’s “sparse” and “superficial” examination was insufficient to support the employer’s claim that it had fulfilled its legal responsibility to conduct an individualized inquiry into the medical condition of an employee it subsequently fired. The Court also held that even though the employee originally complained only of failure to accommodate, the EEOC could bring charges in the case on a different theory.

Dominque Price worked at Kyklos Bearings as a “tugger,” a position which required her to use a motorized scooter to move materials and productions, including “trains” of carts. Price’s job also involved lifting up to fifty pounds. In 2007, Price was diagnosed with breast cancer; she recovered and returned to her job. In August 2011, Kyklos laid off Price for business-related reasons but rehired her in April 2012. Upon her rehiring, Kyklos’s company doctor determined that Price was fit to return to work as a tugger.

On Price’s first day back as a tugger, she was unable to move a particular train of carts and asked her supervisor for assistance. Price’s supervisor told Price to report to the medical department, which she did. A registered nurse, upon hearing that Price was unable to move the train of carts and after only reviewing Price’s medical chart, immediately restricted Price to lifting no more than seven pounds with her left arm. Price’s supervisor then referred Price to the company doctor. The doctor diagnosed Price with lymphedema (a swelling condition commonly caused by the removal of lymph nodes as part of cancer treatment), even though Price told the doctor that she was not experiencing any swelling in her arm. The doctor, who had no prior experience in diagnosing lymphedema, did not adequately examine Price – she did not measure Price’s arm for swelling, did not test Price’s lifting ability, and did not consult with Price’s treating physician. Following this examination, Kyklos terminated Price for misrepresenting her medical condition during her pre-employment physical.

The ADA protects someone who “is regarded as having” a physical “impairment that substantially limits one or more of her major life activities.” The ADA mandates an individualized inquiry in determining whether an employee’s disability or other condition disqualifies her from a particular position. To perform this inquiry, the employer must examine the individual’s actual medical condition, and the impact the condition might have on that individual’s ability to perform the job in question. The Court found that the company doctor’s examination was “sparse” and her diagnosis unsupported by any concrete medical findings.

In Price’s original EEOC discrimination charge, she alleged that Kyklos failed to accommodate her. But after the EEOC investigated her charge, the EEOC concluded that Price did not require an accommodation, and Kyklos’s actions showed that it unlawfully “regarded” Price as disabled. The Court held that Price’s incorrect formulation of the unlawful activity did not preclude the EEOC from concluding that the employer’s conduct actually fell into a different category of unlawful conduct.

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