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An employee failed to show he was terminated in retaliation for filing a workers compensation claim, a circuit judge with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held Thursday.
The appellate court in Hunt v. Monro Muffler Brake Inc. affirmed a district court’s decision granting summary judgment to an automotive repair company, holding it provided sufficient evidence to show that the employee was terminated for wrongdoing.
Jeffrey Hunt worked as an automotive technician, where his job duties included lifting up to 50 pounds and working with his hands overhead. On April 2, 2017, Mr. Hunt’s hand became pinned between an air compressor and car door, lacerating his left palm. He received workers compensation benefits and was cleared to return to light duty work, which included a 10-pound restriction on lifting from May 1 to Oct. 27, 2017. However, the company did not return him to work. While he was on medical leave, the company performed an audit of specialty item purchases at its store to ensure that its own products were being used and sold appropriately. The audit uncovered an unusual purchase by Mr. Hunt of tires in late 2016, as well as two other suspicious tire purchases, one made by another employee at the same location and one at a different store. One of the employees was terminated, the other resigned. The company also terminated Mr. Hunt’s employment, and filed police reports for all of the missing tires.
Mr. Hunt filed a complaint against his employer alleging disability discrimination and workers comp retaliation, among other charges. A district court granted summary judgment to his employer. Mr. Hunt appealed.
The appellate court affirmed the district court’s ruling. Although Mr. Hunt claimed he was fired because of his disabled hand, the court concluded that his employer offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating his employment — his inability to account for the missing tires.
Although he also argued that his employer failed to accommodate his disability by refusing to create a light duty position for him. However, the appellate court noted that an accommodation cannot be deemed to be reasonable if it requires eliminating an essential function of the job — which is to work with both hands overhead and lift up to 50 pounds. As a result, the court held that his light-duty accommodation would have eliminated one of those essential functions and “was therefore unreasonable.”
Monro did not immediately return calls for comment. The names of the attorneys were not listed in the decision and therefore could not be contacted for comment.
Retaliation charges accounted for the largest number of charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Commission in fiscal 2018 for the eighth consecutive year, representing more than half of the total charges filed.