July 16, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Requesting Immediate Home/Family Time, with Only a Fleeting Mention of Need to See Doctor, Does Not Trigger Duty Under ADA to Accommodate HIV Positive Employee

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in EEOC v. C.R. England, Inc. on Tuesday, May 3, 2011.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for Respondents. Petitioner, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1999, was hired as a trucker for Respondents in 2002, at which time he disclosed his illness. He subsequently also pursued a training position with the company, and worked with management to create a form for trainees informing them of his condition, which was only presented to one person. Petitioner also requested several days of home time, but they were denied as vacation requests required two weeks of notice. On his first training assignment, after stressful turn of events, though not uncommon in the industry, he informed the company he was leaving immediately with his truck to his family home in Florida for two weeks, needed to see his doctor, and left his partner at a truck stop. He was fired from his training position, and was later fired from the company for not generating income during those two unscheduled weeks or making his lease payments on his truck. The EEOC and Petitioner brought an employment discrimination and retaliation suit against Respondents, claiming they had fired him because of his illness and therefore violated his rights under the ADA.

The Court, however, agreed with the district court and sided with Respondents. The Court found that Petitioner’s two requests for home time did not put Respondent on notice that that Petitioner was requesting reasonable accommodation due to his HIV status; Petitioner classified the requests as “family time,” rather than for his illness, besides his “after-the-fact, fleeing statement mentioning a need to see his doctor. . . . Therefore, his requests did not trigger the company’s duty under ADA § 102(b)(5).” As to his retaliation claim, the Court concluded that even if Petitioner could support a prima facie case, Respondents have proffered a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for his firing: Petitioner had “just debt” for his truck that he “genuinely owed” under the lease agreement, which is why he was reported to a debt collection agency.

Petitioner also brought two state law claims that were dismissed. He claimed Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress by Respondents creating the form disclosing his HIV status; the Court determined that the company’s “conduct in presenting [Petitioner]’s trainee with the acknowledgment form disclosing [his] HIV status may not be reasonably regarded as extreme or outrageous.” Additionally, his invasion of privacy claim fails because “the disclosure to one potential trainee and a handful of [Respondent’s] employees does not constitute ‘public disclosure.'”

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