Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cop caught sleeping on the job awarded $1M in ADA lawsuit — what could this employer have done differently?

A federal jury awarded nearly $1 million to a former police officer, allegedly fired after sleeping on duty.
According to the McPherson Sentinel,  alleged the city violated his civil rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and the Kansas Wage Payment Act when he was fired for sleeping on the job. Michaels has sleep apnea, and claims that the disability resulted in his dismissal, which was a violation of his rights. It appears the courts agree.
Matthew Michaels had worked as a police office in McPherson, Kansas, for nine years. From 2006 to 2007, Michaels had three on-duty at-fault car accidents. Three years late, he was suspended after being repeatedly caught sleeping in his patrol car. Thereafter, Michaels was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, for which he received medical treatment and had no further incidents of falling asleep on duty.
Micheals performance problems, however, did not end. Two years later, the city fired Michaels for a variety of performance issues, which included insubordination and arguing with superiors.
If Michaels’ sleep issues ended two years prior to his termination, how did he hit for nearly $1 million in his ADA lawsuit? Because his supervisor listed his prior incidents of sleeping on duty as one of the reasons for his termination.
Unless an employee is absolutely unable to perform the essential functions of the job with (or without) reasonable accommodations, a medical diagnosis should never come into play as a reason for termination. In this case, the medical issues stopped impacting Michaels’ job performance once he began receiving treatment. Thus, there was absolutely no reason to mention the two-year-old (and under control) sleep issues in support of the termination decision. This employer had other good reasons to fire this employee. It dropped the ball, however, by adding his medically-caused, stale, performance problems into the termination equation.