A jury in Miami recently found that an employer discriminated against a one-armed security guard on the basis of disability when it fired him following a customer complaint.
According to the EEOC’s press release, the security guard lost his arm in a car accident. Subsequently, the president of the community association where the security guard was stationed complained to his employer that “The company is a joke. You sent me a one-armed security guard.” After receiving this complaint, the employer removed the security guard from his post, ending his employment.
The EEOC filed suit on the security guard’s behalf, arguing that his removal and termination violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC’s primary argument was that reliance on discriminatory customer preferences and stereotypes about what individuals with disabilities can and cannot do violates the ADA. The jury agreed with the EEOC and awarded the security guard $35,922 in damages. To reach this result, the jury had to determine that the security guard could perform his essential job functions, with or without accommodation.
Takeaway: Employers cannot rely on customer preferences to justify discriminatory actions. In this case, the employer likely should have engaged in the interactive process to determine whether the employee could perform the essential functions of the job.