Court Upholds ADA Ruling Against Employer Who Reneged on Job Offer

February 13, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Titan Distribution Inc. wrongfully refused to hire an applicant based on a physical examination it had already said he passed.

Affirming a lower court ruling, the appeals court considered Titan’s reneged offer to Robert Chalfant as an “unusual decision-making process,” providing strong evidence that the company was aware it was breaking federal law by later saying Chalfant failed the physical exam.

When Titan decided to cut costs by terminating its deal with Quintak, Inc.  – a company whose employees ran the tire and mounting operation within the Titan building – it decided to hire some of Quintak’s employees who would have to reapply. Chalfant, a second shift supervisor whose duties included operating a forklift and loading trucks, fell into this category.

Chalfant had been with Quintak for five years when he suffered a heart attack in 1992 and had to undergo carpal tunnel surgery and heart bypass surgery in 1997. He had arthritis in his back, neck, ankle and hands, according to the opinion.

Chalfant applied at Titan for the same position he had with Quintak, believing that the position carried the same duties and responsibilities.

The physical examination determined that Chalfant could work in his current capacity, including driving a forklift, and while his application and physical exam results were being reviewed, Chalfant continued working in the same position.  

During the first week of August 2002, one of Chalfant’s supervisors told him that he was included in a list of Quintak employees to be retained by Titan. On August 8, 2002, Chalfant was told that he had failed the physical and would not be hired.

Chalfant sued Titan for disability and age discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The district court denied the age discrimination charges.

However, a jury found for Chalfant on the ADA issues, awarding $60,000 in back pay and $100,000 in punitive damages. The district court judge then awarded $18,750 in front pay.

Titan appealed the ruling, claiming that Chalfant had a conditional offer of employment before the exam, but that the offer was withdrawn after he failed the physical and that Chalfant could not perform the job duties of the position for which he applied.   

In its opinion, the 8th Circuit ruled that “ Titan’s inconsistent behavior at the time of the decision and its inability to explain its behavior could lead a reasonable jury to infer that Titan knew it might be acting in violation of federal law.”

Until it was cleared up in trial, no one at Titan could say who made the decision to alter the outcome of the physical examination from “pass” to “fail,” and no one from Titan ever explained the impetus for that change.

The full opinion is here .

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