A federal jury has awarded a man $1.2 million in damages in his wrongful termination lawsuit against a heavy-equipment dealer. The jury found last week that Casper-based Wyoming Machinery Co. violated the ADA in terminating an employee after he underwent open-heart surgery. This worker began employment with Wyoming Machinery on Sept. 1, 1999, as a tube technician and later as a mechanic working on heavy equipment, including haul trucks at coal mines in Campbell County. He underwent open-heart surgery in October 2006 and was told by his physician not to work for six months and to work only "light duty" when he returned to his job. The company considered him disabled and placed him on long-term disability, according to court records. He returned to work in April 2007 as a heavy-equipment mechanic. But, on the second day back on the job, he suffered what he characterized as a mild heart attack, and he returned to long-term disability. In August 2007, he was contacted about a site coordinator position open at the North Antelope mine. He was 51 years old at the time. He didn't get that position and wasn't notified about an opening at another mine that went to a younger, less-qualified employee, the court records said and was terminated July 15, 2008, based on company policy that an employee cannot be absent from work for more than six months. He had been absent from work for about 21 months with the exception of two days he worked in April 2007.
The point is: this employee was qualified and physically able to handle the site coordinator position, according to the lawsuit. It is now difficult to prove that the younger employee was more qualified for the job. Inflexible terminal policies are problematic under the ADA. Now is a good time to review your policies that might be viewed as discriminatory when it comes to employees with disabilities. Sometimes, additional leave, as a reasonable accommodation for an employee with disabilities, is necessary and reasonable to keep the person employed.
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