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Monday, May 11, 2009

Sleeping on-the-job costs security guard his disability discrimination case

You would think that the ability to awake on one’s watch is an important attribute for a security guard. One security guard working for a Cleveland hospital believed that his employer had a duty to reasonably accommodate the side effect of his heart medication by permitting him to sleep during his shift. Rongers v. University Hospitals of Cleveland (Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals, 5/7/09) [PDF] concluded differently.

Rongers, a night-shift sergeant at University Hospitals, was prescribed a beta blocker following a heart attack. According to Rongers, the medication “made him light-headed and tired. He had difficulty sleeping during the day and difficulty staying awake during his work hours.” Thus, he took naps “when needed.” He admitted that he napped while on duty five or six times, sometimes for as long as two hours at a stretch. When the hospital caught time on tape, it fired him. The court subsequently dismissed his disability discrimination lawsuit, a decision that the court of appeals affirmed:

Rongers admitted sleeping on the job meant that he was not performing his essential duties as a security guard. Rongers testified that an employer should not tolerate sleeping on the job. He said that he never held a job where it was acceptable to sleep while on duty and understood that when he did sleep on the job, he was not working. He further conceded that when he performed part-time security work outside of UH he actually discharged a member of his team for being asleep on the job. This evidence shows, as a matter of law, that Rongers could not safely and substantially perform his job duties when he required periods of sleep while on duty…. [A]n employee who requires extended periods of sleep while on the job cannot be performing the essential duties of the job.

It’s hard to argue with the result in this case, but it nevertheless makes an important point. Just because an employee has a medical condition does not mean that the employer must make an accommodation for that employee. Many conditions simply cannot be accommodated, given the nature of the job and the issue that must be addressed.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or