Employee Firing After Work-Related Injury Is Not Considered ‘Discriminatory,’ Court Says

After getting injured on the job, one juvenile detention officer was fired when she could no longer fulfill her role's duties. In court, she argues wrongful termination due to disability discrimination.
By: | October 15, 2018

Juvenile detention officer Crystal Wade, recently promoted into that position, was still on probationary status when a late-night altercation occurred in the workplace, Leon Regional Detention Center. Injured in the scuffle, Wade filed for workers’ comp and leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Her physician recommended she be placed on light-duty work, which Leon Regional was happy to oblige. However, her physician later placed Wade on full work restrictions. Following this decision, Wade stopped working.

About a month later, Wade received a termination letter from Leon Regional, notifying her that because of her failure to complete the juvenile detention officer probationary period, she was being let go. Wade took Leon Regional to court. She issued both a disability discrimination and a workers’ comp retaliation claim.

Wade argued the Rehabilitation Act prohibits entities receiving federal funds from “discriminating against otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities.” However, the district court found she did not qualify under the Act.

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From there, Wade took the case to appellate court, which looked into the Rehabilitation Act further. Under it, Wade would be required to show “proof that the individual was discriminated against solely by reason of her disability.” To do so, she needed to show she had a disability, she was qualified for her position and she was subjected to unlawful discrimination as a result of her disability.

Leon Regional argued that “a person with a disability is ‘otherwise qualified’ if she is able to perform the essential functions of the job in question with or without a reasonable accommodation.” Due to full work restrictions, the correctional facility argued, Wade was not “qualified.”

Scorecard: Crystal Wade will not be returning to work for Leon Regional Detention Center thanks to full work restrictions.

Takeaway: Companies benefit when they work to accommodate injured workers with light-duty restrictions. In the event of a full work restriction, a company might want to review policy before turning to termination. &

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]