Contributed by Sara Zorich
In, United States EEOC v. AutoZone, Inc., the district court upheld a jury verdict, including punitive damages, concluding that Autozone had violated the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) by forcing an employee with a back injury to mop the store’s floor. The court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that mopping the store floor was not an essential function of the “parts sales manager” position because the time spent performing the task was marginal, routine and required unskilled labor. Therefore, AutoZone violated the ADA by not providing a reasonable accommodation to the employee and not having another employee mop the floor during the employee’s shift.
The jury’s punitive damages finding was upheld because there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that AutoZone’s good faith defense to the punitive damages claim was unpersuasive based on the fact that AutoZone did not have an anti-discrimination policy and the employee’s managers required the employee to mop the floor even after receiving notification from his doctor requesting that the employee be relieved from mopping.
As a reminder, employers should work with employees who request accommodations in order to assess the requests of the employee as well as the company’s ability to grant the employee’s requests. This should be an interactive process between the company and the employee. Employers should also review job descriptions periodically to assess the essential job functions stated in each job description.