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Court sides with Rite Aid in ADA case of needle-phobic pharmacist

Court sides with Rite Aid in ADA case of needle-phobic pharmacist

A federal appeals court has overturned an $1.8 million jury verdict and ruled a drug store chain did not violate the American with Discrimination Act when it terminated a pharmacist who was afraid of needles.

In 2011, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania-based Rite Aid Corp. started requiring pharmacists to perform immunizations, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in Christopher Stevens v. Rite Aid Corp. et al.

Mr. Stevens, who had worked as a Rite Aid pharmacist and its predecessor pharmacies for 34 years, obtained a note from his physician, who reported Mr. Stevens was needle-phobic, a condition known as trypanophobia, and could not administer injections. The doctor reported it was likely Mr. Stevens would faint if he did so. He was terminated in August 2011.

Mr. Stevens filed suit against Rite Aid on grounds including wrongful termination under the American with Disabilities Act. At trial, a U.S. District Court jury in Binghamton, New York, awarded him a total of $1.7 million in back and front pay, plus $900,000 in damages, which was later reduced to $125,000.
The District Court denied Rite Aid’s motion for judgment as matter of law, and the pharmacy appealed.
A three-judge appeals court panel unanimously held the pharmacy had not violated the ADA. An employee is not qualified for protection under the ADA if he is unable to perform his job’s essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodation, said the ruling.

That was the case here, the appeals court concluded. The evidence “compels a finding that immunization injections were an essential job requirement for Rite Aid pharmacists at the time of Stevens’ termination,” said the ruling.

“It is understandable that the jury had sympathy for Stevens, afflicted as he was with an unusual phobia. Nevertheless, his inability to perform an essential function of his job as a pharmacist is the only reasonable conclusion that could be drawn from the evidence,” said the decision, in reversing the lower court’s ruling and remanding the case for entry of a revised judgment in Rite Aid’s favor.



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