Court Denies Summary Judgment After Employer Refuses to Hire Driver with Service Dog
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa recently denied summary judgment in a transportation matter. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. CRST Int'l, Inc., No. 17-CV-129-CJW-KEM, 2018 WL 6438369 (N.D. Iowa Dec. 7, 2018). The case is of importance to the transportation industry.
In CRST, the defendant company (“CRST”) allegedly refused to hire an applicant as a truck driver because he was disabled. The applicant, who had PTSD and mood disorder, asked to use a prescribed emotional support/service dog as an accommodation. CRST allegedly refused to accommodate the applicant’s disabilities and retaliated against the applicant for asking to have his service dog not accompany him while driving.
The EEOC brought suit against CRST seeking punitive damages and an offer of employment, back pay, and compensatory damages for the applicant. The EEOC and CRST both filed motions for summary judgment. The court considered three main issues.
An individual is qualified within the meaning of the ADA if the individual has the required skills, education, certification, or experience for the job and, despite any impairments, can perform the essential functions with or without reasonable accommodation.
The EEOC argued that the applicant was indisputably qualified because the applicant possessed a CDL and found other employment as a long-haul driver six months after CRST refused to hire him.
CRST argued that the EEOC could not show the applicant was qualified to work as an over-the-road truck driver because the applicant failed to disclose his full mental health history in his medical examination. CRST alleged the medical examiner would not have found the applicant fit to drive commercially if the applicant had disclosed the full extent or severity of his mental health history (including a recent involuntary civil commitment and a history of blackouts).
The court refused to decide this issue on summary judgment because there was a factual dispute regarding whether the applicant could, despite his impairments, perform the essential functions of the truck driver position at the time he applied for the job with the defendant. The applicant’s subsequent employment did not automatically show that he was medically fit to drive for CRST at the time he actually applied for employment with CRST.
2. Retaliation and Interference
In order to prevail on the retaliation claim, the EEOC had to show that there was a causal connection between the applicant engaging in a protected activity and CRST’s failure to hire the applicant. To satisfy the interference claim, the EEOC had to show that the applicant was entitled to the accommodation he sought and that CRST threatened not to hire him unless he abandoned his accommodation request.
The applicant wanted to have his service dog accompany him while driving. CRST argued that the applicant was not hired because CRST had a “no pets” policy.
The court denied summary judgment because there was disputed evidence, specifically relating to the timing of when the applicant asked for the accommodation and when CRST refused to hire the applicant.
3. Damages and Jury Demand
CRST argued that the EEOC was not entitled to compensatory or punitive damages on the retaliation or interference claims. Because the EEOC could only get equitable relief, CRST asked the court to strike the EEOC’s jury demand.
After analyzing the applicable federal statutes, the court concluded that the EEOC was not entitled to compensatory or retaliation damages on the retaliation or interference claims. Thus, the EEOC was not entitled to a trial by jury on those issues.
As summary judgment was denied, the case will proceed to trial. Trial is presently set for March 4, 2019. Readers should continue to follow the case as the outcome of trial will provide further guidance. In any event, an appeal could follow.
Contact John F. Fatino for more information about trucking and transportation matters at 515-288-6041. Kay Oskvig, labor and employment associate, assisted in the preparation of these materials.