Trucker files lawsuit claiming disability discrimination during pandemic

July 16, 2021

Tyson Fisher

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Performance Transportation will have to defend itself in a federal lawsuit accusing it of disability discrimination related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On July 7, a California federal district court denied Richmond, Va.-based Performance Transportation its motion to dismiss a case filed by Jorge Madrigal, a former trucker for the company. Madrigal, who suffers from diabetes, claims the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing his request to work in the warehouse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Madrigal began working for Performance Transportation, a subsidiary of Performance Food Group, in December 2016. In February 2020, he was hospitalized and diagnosed with pneumonia, which he was at a higher risk of catching because of his diabetes. His disability made symptoms worse, putting him on medical leave for 16 days.

Finding Madrigal at high risk for contracting COVID-19, his doctor extended the medical leave to September 2020. The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention list diabetes as a medical condition that makes it more likely for adults to get severely ill from COVID-19.

On Sept. 2, Madrigal provided Performance Transportation with paperwork from his doctors granting him the ability to return to work with a temporary accommodation of minimizing contact with people for six to 12 months. Accordingly, the trucker requested to work in the warehouse, which was denied.

According to the lawsuit, accommodations could have been in the form of key drop deliveries or long-haul routes with limited to no interactions with customers. In fact, Madrigal claims there was a route between Gilroy, Calif., and Los Angeles that involved little customer contact and was not dedicated to any driver. However, no other options were offered by the company. Instead, the trucker was fired several days later.

In a letter sent to Madrigal, Performance Transportation claimed there was “no reasonable accommodation that (Performance Food Group) can provide.” He was informed that his employment would be considered a “voluntary quit.”

Considering the timing and Madrigal’s work performance in the years prior, his attorney argued that his disability was a substantial motivating factor in his termination.

The federal court granted Performance Transportation’s motion to dismiss the case based on the original complaint. In the complaint, Madrigal claimed his disability was pneumonia due to increased risk of COVID-19 from respiratory issues. It was unclear whether Madrigal was arguing that he is disabled because he had pneumonia or because he had pneumonia during the COVID-19 pandemic and so was vulnerable to serious illness or death. Madrigal amended his complaint to argue his diabetes qualifies his disability.

Again, Performance Transportation moved to have the case dismissed, arguing that “being at heightened risk for COVID-19 is not, by itself, a disability under” California state law. However, this time the federal court ruled that diabetes is a qualifying disability under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Guidance from California states “If the underlying medical condition (putting the employee at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19) does not rise to the level of a disability, employers are not required to reasonably accommodate the employee.” Due to Madrigal’s diabetes, that guidance does not apply.

Now that Madrigal has addressed all the issues within the original complaint that was dismissed, Performance Transportation must face the lawsuit as litigation continues. LL

 

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.