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Firing of injured worker upheld by appeals court

Firing of injured worker upheld by appeals court

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts on Friday affirmed a ruling by the state Civil Service Commission that said a housing authority was within its rights to terminate employment for a disabled man who could no longer perform job functions for which there were no accommodations available.

In December 2012, Robert McEachen suffered a work-related injury while working as a carpenter for the Boston Housing Authority and was placed on paid family and medical leave for the first three months of 2013 and was later placed on medical leave, according to documents in Robert McEachen v. Boston Housing Authority, filed Friday in the state appellate court in Boston.

In early 2014, the housing authority sent Mr. McEachen and his union a notice for a termination hearing. After the hearing on April 11, 2014 with the housing authority, the hearing officer concluded that Mr. McEachen “is unable to return to work and cannot perform the essential functions of his job.”

“McEachen did not dispute the evidence, including medical documents, that showed he is unable to perform his job duties and that his ability to return to work as a carpenter remained undetermined. Rather, McEachen asserted that he could return to work but only in a modified duty capacity that would entail being a ‘carpenter’s boss,’ which would include ‘supervising others and performing administrative duties,’” documents state.

The housing authority stated that “such a supervisory position does not exist for an employee in McEachen’s collective bargaining unit.” The hearing officer then found that Mr. McEachen’s request “to be given a completely different job that would allow him to continue working is not reasonable,” and that “it is unreasonable to expect that (the housing authority) indefinitely keep (his) position open particularly in light of (the housing authority’s) current financial condition.”

The housing authority subsequently terminated Mr. McEachen’s employment. He appealed to the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission, arguing that “the BHA’s decision to terminate him is arbitrary and capricious because it is based on illegal antiunion animus and a desire to cheat him out of his retention bonus and life insurance policy.”

Both parties moved for summary disposition. Following a hearing on July 24, 2014, the commission upheld the BHA’s decision, concluding that the housing authority had just cause to terminate Mr. McEachen because the “undisputed facts establish that (he) was incapable of performing the duties of his position as a (housing authority) carpenter,” according to documents.

According to the commission’s ruling, “(the housing authority) correctly points out that an employee is not deemed unfit to perform the duties of the `position involved’ if the employee can perform those duties ‘with reasonable accommodation,’ this principle of reasonable accommodation does not require an employer to ‘fashion a new position’ for the employee nor does it require that the employee be allowed to remain on medical leave indefinitely.”

A three-judge panel of the state appellate court affirmed that ruling, finding that “we see no error in the (commission’s) decision to enter summary disposition in favor of the (housing authority). Such decision is supported by substantial undisputed evidence in the record, which showed that McEachen is unable to perform the essential job duties of a … carpenter, that such inability is indefinite, and that there is no reasonable accommodation available that would allow McEachen to return to the job in a limited capacity.”


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