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Plant Could Not Accommodate Vision Loss

Deborah Elkins//February 4, 2013

Plant Could Not Accommodate Vision Loss

Deborah Elkins//February 4, 2013

A former employee at a heavy truck manufacturing plant, who was placed on long-term disability after he lost his peripheral vision and employer determined he was unable to safely perform any job at the plant, has failed to suggest any reasonable accommodation employer might have made, and the Roanoke U.S. District Court grants summary judgment to employer.

Defendant, Volvo Group N.A. Inc., initially placed plaintiff on short-term disability and evaluated his condition of retinitis pigmentosa and its ability to accommodate the condition. It eventually determined plaintiff was unable to safely perform any job at the plant (a plant filled with heavy machinery, moving trucks, forklifts and other such hazards) and suggested he apply for long-term disability benefits. Plaintiff received such benefits under the company ERISA plan, as well as social security disability benefits. Plaintiff now sues under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Plaintiff never identified to his employer a vacant position he could perform (with or without accommodation) and for which he had seniority. He conceded during oral argument that he was bumped from his position by a senior employee in accordance with the CBA and that he never identified to Volvo a particular job he could perform and had seniority to obtain. He now flatly claims the evidence does not show any actual progression in his eye condition from the date of his hire until 2009; that he never posed a threat to the safety of himself or others and that Volvo is at fault for his failure to identify a suitable job because it failed to engage in an interactive process that might have identified such a job. The record before the court tells a different story and discloses no lack of effort or bad faith on Volvo’s part to discern a reasonable accommodation.

When plaintiff returned from layoff, he presented an unequivocal letter from a physician stating plaintiff’s condition had “deteriorated,” there was no cure and plaintiff had a “loss of peripheral vision that may pose a hazard to himself or fellow workers if working in an area that uses dangerous tools,” that it would be best to place plaintiff in an area where restricted mobility is required and high impact machinery is not involved.” Plaintiff presents no rationale for concluding that Volvo acted inappropriately in relying on the objective medical evidence he supplied to Volvo.

The record before us presents none of the hallmarks of stereotyping or of the callous jettisoning of a loyal employee with a disability. Rather, it appears employer was stymied or simply at a loss for answers under the circumstances it confronted. Ultimately, it concluded through the interactive process that it could not fashion a reasonable accommodation and successfully worked to ensure that plaintiff, its employee, received disability benefits.

Summary judgment for Volvo.

Kemp v. Volvo Group of N.A. Inc. (Wilson) (Published) No. 7:11cv00535, Jan. 24, 2013; USDC at Roanoke, Va. VLW 013-3-033, 12 pp.


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