If You Don’t Want to Get Sued, Don’t Terminate for the Inability to Work Without Restrictions

An employee at a shower enclosure company may proceed on claims that he was denied reasonable accommodation and terminated because of his disability.  In Mesi v. Hoskin & Muir, Inc. dba Cardinal Shower Enclosures, the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii denied a motion to dismiss the federal and state disability claims of Kesio Mesi, who sought accommodation and was terminated for his inability to work without restrictions after suffering a workplace injury that left him unable to lift more than ten pounds.
 
The motion to dismiss was filed by Hoskin & Muir, Inc. and argued that Mesi could not proceed on his claims because he failed to allege sufficient facts to state a claim for relief under applicable law.  The employer argued that dismissal was proper because the First Amended Complaint failed to state a prima facie case of disability discrimination.  To do so, Mesi’s complaint must provide sufficient facts to allege that (1) he is disabled within the meaning of disability law; (2) he is a qualified individual with a disability; and (3) he suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability.  In evaluating a motion to dismiss, courts consider whether factual allegations are “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true.”  Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
 
In this case, Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren held that Mesi alleged sufficient facts to state a prima facie case of disability discrimination.  Specifically, the First Amended Complaint alleges that Mesi suffered a work injury that restricted his ability to lift more than ten pounds, and that he remained off work under the care of a treating physician after being denied light duty work.  These factual assertions were sufficient to put the company on notice of Mesi’s disability and the possibility that it substantially limited one or more major life activities.  The First Amended Complaint also alleges that Mesi worked for almost a year with no performance issues prior to his injury.  This factual assertion was sufficient to put Hoskin & Muir on notice that he was a qualified individual with a disability.  Finally, the First Amended Complaint alleges that Mesi followed company procedures to request light duty as an accommodation to his injury, that the request was denied, and that he was ultimately terminated because he could not work without restrictions.  These allegations, the court concluded, were sufficient to put the company on notice that Mesi allegedly suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability.  Taken together, the allegations in the First Amended Complaint state a claim for relief under disability law.  As such, the court determined that dismissal of the suit was improper and denied the employer’s motion.