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Retired postal worker loses disability bias case

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The U.S. Postal Service did not violate the federal Rehabilitation Act when it prevented an injured employee from returning to work until she could pass a series of physical examinations, a federal court has ruled.

Dorothea Washington worked as a bulk mail technician at a postal service office in Bedford Park, Illinois, court records show. She suffered a fractured femur outside of work in June 2010 that required surgery, and injured the same leg at work in September 2011 when she twisted her knee on the way to the bathroom.

Ms. Washington received workers compensation benefits for her work injury, and her doctor told the postal service that she could return to full-duty work as of November 2011, records show. However, court records show the postal service required her to undergo a series of medical examinations over several months before she could return to work, including a functional capacity examination and a fitness-for-duty examination.

The tests, which were delayed in part by scheduling conflicts with physicians, caused Ms. Washington to remain out of work without pay or health benefits for more than 365 days, according to a complaint filed by Ms. Washington in U.S. District Court in Rockford, Illinois. She opted for early retirement from the postal service in December 2012.

Ms. Washington filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing the postal service of disability discrimination for preventing her to return to work, court filings show. However, the EEOC ruled in June 2013 that the postal service did not discriminate against Ms. Washington because the fitness tests represented “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons” for the delay in returning Ms. Washington to work.

Ms. Washington appealed, arguing in filings that the postal service violated the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits disability discrimination in federal agencies and programs receiving federal funding. She contended that her doctor’s notice that she could return to full duty in November 2011 should have provided sufficient documentation for her to return to work.

The postal service countered in filings that Ms. Washington was delayed from returning to work based on scheduling conflicts and unfavorable results in fitness testing that she underwent. For instance, Ms. Washington’s heart rate exceeded normal limits during a 100-yard walking test that she underwent for the postal service in March 2012, and a July 2012 exam showed that she needed restrictions on lifting, carrying, walking and kneeling.

The District Court in Rockford ruled Monday that the postal service did not discriminate against Ms. Washington.

Judge Manish S. Shah said in his ruling that Ms. Washington failed to show that the postal service discriminated against her by requiring her to obtain sufficient medical evidence that she could perform her job.

The “undisputed evidence is that defendant sought to learn the extent of plaintiff’s physical abilities in order to obtain the appropriate medical clearance for her to return to full duty,” the ruling reads. “Plaintiff voluntarily retired before this was accomplished.”