Supreme Court Rejects Disabled Employee’s Bid to Revive His $2.6 Million ADA Jury Verdict: Why You Should Still Regularly Update Job Descriptions and Supporting Documents
January 3, 2018
Authored by: Michael Olsen
On October 16, 2017, the Supreme Court rejected an employee’s petition for review of a decision in Stevens v Rite Aid Corporation. Stevens sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) for alleged discriminatory discharge claiming trypanophobia or “fear of needles” as a disability. Rite Aid discharged Stevens, a pharmacist of 32 years (with Rite Aid and its predecessors), after he refused to comply with Rite Aid’s requirement that pharmacists administer immunization injections to its customers. The Second Circuit held that administering injections was an essential function of the pharmacist position at the time of his termination, and therefore, concluded that Stevens was not a “qualified individual” with a disability.
At trial, Rite Aid personnel testified that the company made a business decision to start requiring pharmacists to perform immunizations. While courts are required to consider a variety of factors under Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) regulations, many courts give substantial or “considerable” deference to an employer’s business judgment and written job descriptions. Following this deferential standard, the Second Circuit reversed entry of judgment in Stevens’ favor and ordered the district court to vacate the jury’s $2.6 million award and enter judgment for Rite Aid as a matter of law on his claim of disability discrimination.
The Second Circuit is in line with other circuits, including the Fifth, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits, which have concluded that considerable or substantial deference to an employer’s business judgment about essential functions and its written job descriptions is required. However, some circuit