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ADA lawsuit over lifting restrictions reinstated

ADA lawsuit over lifting restrictions reinstated

A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court and reinstated an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit filed by a dialysis technical specialist, stating there is dispute over his former employer’s assertion that lifting 75 to 100 pounds is an essential job function.

Victor Pfendler suffered a non-work-related shoulder injury and was granted medical leave in January 2012 from his job with Honolulu-based Liberty Dialysis-Hawaii L.L.C., according to Monday’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in Victor E. Pfendler v. Liberty Dialysis-Hawaii L.L.C.

Between March and December 2012, Mr. Pfendler asked to return to work with a lifting restriction that started at 30 pounds but lessened to 50 pounds. Liberty rejected these proposals, relying on its written job descriptor that lifting 75 to 100 pounds is an essential job function, the ruling said.

Mr. Pfendler sued in U.S. District Court in Honolulu, arguing Liberty had violated the ADA by refusing to allow him to return to his position. The District Court granted Liberty’s motion for summary judgment, concluding there was undisputed evidence that lifting more than 50 pounds was an essential job function.

A unanimous three-judge appeals court panel reinstated the case. Mr. Pfendler’s testimony and another technician’s statement that the most he lifted on a regular basis is about 40 pounds “are sufficient to create a factual dispute on the issue. At the summary judgment stage, if lifting more than 50 pounds was not an essential function of the job, Pfendler would have been a qualified individual and Liberty’s refusal to allow him to return to the (dialysis) position may have been discriminatory.”

Alternatively, said the ruling, “if the lifting requirement was an essential function, Pfendler may have been entitled to an accommodation that the employer waive the formal lifting condition,” said the ruling, in reversing the lower court ruling and remanding the case for further proceedings.

In 2015, an appeals court upheld dismissal of a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit filed on behalf of a breast cancer survivor who was fired from her law firm job because she could not lift more than 20 pounds. 

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