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Schwan's grocery delivery wins disability discrimination battle


Schwan’s Home Service Inc., a frozen food delivery provider in the United States was not liable for disability discrimination for terminating a supervisor—who was not qualified to drive a truck because of health reasons— though truck driving did not appear in the job’s official written description, says a federal appeals court.

David Hawkins began working for Marshall, Minnesota-based Schwan’s Home Service Inc. in 1987 and was promoted to facility supervisor in the company’s Alva, Oklahoma, facility in 2003, according to Thursday’s ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit court of Appeals in Denver in David Hawkins v. Schwan’s Home Service Inc.

The company’s official written description for the position states the job’s duties and responsibilities include managing the company’s fleet of delivery trucks, but does not mention truck driving. However, the qualifications section of the description, says federal Department of Transportation certification as a driver is required.

Mr. Hawkins began suffering from several heath conditions that prevented him from becoming DOT-certified and to thus driving a truck. But he was asked by his supervisor, Jim Hillaker, to drive trucks to a mechanic, which Mr. Hawkins said in a deposition he believed was done to force him to quit. Another worker said that Mr. Hillaker told him he “wanted (Mr. Hawkins) gone.”

Mr. Hawkins was terminated in 2010. He filed suit against the company charging it with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act of 2008. The U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City, rejected Mr. Hawkins’ disabilities claim, stating the termination was justified because he could not perform the essential function of securing DOT certification for driving the company’s vehicles.

A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit agreed. “We find no fault with the district court’s context-based assessment of (Schwan’s) written job description. Our case law readily supports the court’s prerogative to view the description through a broad lens, considering all relevant circumstances of the position,” said the ruling, in upholding dismissal of the case.

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