DeRosa v. National Envelope Corporation (US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit 08-2562-cv)
DeRosa became an employee of National Envelope in 1988 working as a customer service representative. In 2002, he suffered a traumatic injury to his right leg, which resulted in swelling, ulcers, and infections. DeRosa’s physician instructed him to limit the dependency on his right leg and, if possible, work from home. National Envelope agreed to this accommodation; however, in 2004 a new CEO decided to rescind this accommodation.
DeRosa, believing that his medical condition could not permit this change, informed his supervisor that he could not work on site. He was then terminated. DeRosa alleged that his employer encouraged him to file for Social Security Disability payments. There was a conflict on whether he had satisfactorily performed his job duties from home before his discharge. When DeRosa applied for SSDI, he stated that he â€œbecame unable to work because of my disabling condition and I am still disabled.� After DeRosa filed for ADA discrimination, the employer tried to argue that he was “stopped”� from doing so because of his statement on the SSDI application. The court disagreed.
This is a scary decision for employers. In this case, the plaintiff filed for Social Security Disability benefits and was then terminated because his employer believed that the employee’s claim that he was disabled from doing his job meant that there was no ADA concern. DeRosa obviously disagreed, claiming that there was an accommodation obligation in any event. The court pointed out that in a previous case, a sworn assertion that an SSDI applicant was “unable to work” could negate an element of an ADA claim unless the plaintiff offers a sufficient explanation for the apparent contradiction.
Lesson learned: A company always runs a risk when it does not engage in accommodation dialogue with any employee on leave for any reason at any time. I’m not sure why the CEO rescinded the work at home accommodation; my guess is that he felt this created a bad precedent or that DeRosa wasn’t performing well. If this is the case, the company should be able to defend itself against the ADA claim. This defense would be stronger if the company can document that it issued warnings and created performance plans for DeRosa before rescinding his accommodation.