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Don’t think a successful workers’ comp case lets you off the ADA accommodation hook

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

Employees who are disabled after an injury on the job often apply for workers’ compensation. Receiving those benefits, however, isn’t a bar to asserting ADA and state disability claims, as a federal court hearing a New York case recently concluded.

Recent case: Madeline Fowler worked for Kohl’s Department Stores as a customer service supervisor. She was expected to help run registers as needed and to work the sales floor.

Fowler injured her back at work, and her doctor placed her under medical restrictions. Eventually, he concluded that she had a degenerative spinal condition and should never stoop, bend, twist, squat, kneel, pull or use stairs.

She asked for accommodations, but Kohl’s concluded none was possible and discharged her.

Fowler sued under the ADA and the New York Human Rights Law, claiming disability discrimination.

Kohl’s argued that, because she was also receiving workers’ compensation benefits for the injury, she couldn’t also sue for accommodations. It said the workers’ comp law trumped other claims and was the exclusive remedy.

The court disagreed. It said that as long as Fowler wasn’t telling the workers’ comp system she was completely unable to work, even with accommodation, she could collect workers’ comp and sue for disability discrimination. (Fowler v. Kohl’s Department Stores, No. 1:07-CV-1197, ND NY, 2009)

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