Appeals Court Affirms $400,000 Verdict Against Baltimore County for Violating the ADA

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In a per curiam opinion issued on December 29, 2017, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a former Baltimore County employee.    The employee was represented by Francis J. Collins and David Gray Wright.  The Court summarized the County’s unlawful conduct: “It is undisputed that the County used out-of-date medical authorizations to gather [the employee’s] cancer-related medical records, and that it made unlawful inquiries when it sought and received records regarding [the employee] rather than limiting its requests to [the employee’s] back injury.” Those inquiries, and the resulting decision to terminate the employee, were unlawful.

The original jury verdict issued on July 14, 2016.   The jury found that Baltimore County unlawfully terminated the employee in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The jury also found that the County violated the ADA when it made undue medical inquiries and sent him for an undue medical examination. 

The employee had begun working for Baltimore County’s Department of Highways as a laborer in 2006.  At about the same time he was diagnosed with cancer.  He was treated and prevailed in his battle with cancer.  In 2007, he was again diagnosed with cancer, treated, and prevailed.  He worked throughout much of his treatment.

In 2009, the employee strained his back.  The County sought, in violation of the ADA, all of his medical records, including records about his battles with cancer.  In 2010, the employee again strained his back.  He took off several weeks of work and recovered. He was cleared to return to work.  The County, however, in violation of the ADA, referred him for an evaluation not limited to his back and, instead, encompassing his battles with cancer.  The County’s doctor concluded that the employee, who was doing his job successfully at the time, could not do his job.  The County decided to terminate the employee for his disability or for his perceived disability.  He challenged the decision. The County, however, insisted on terminating him without any effort to accommodate him or assess his ability and facilitate his continued employment.  The employee engaged FJ Collins to represent him.

The employee filed a charge against the County with the EEOC.  The EEOC found cause to believe the County discriminated against him.  On behalf of the employee, FJ Collins filed a lawsuit against Baltimore County.  The lawsuit went to trial on July 11, 2016.  On July 14, 2016, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the employee.  The jury awarded the employee $96,000 in back pay and $298,000 in compensatory damages for wrongfully terminating him in violation of the ADA.  The jury awarded him another $6,000 in compensatory damages for unlawfully seeking his medical records and referring him to an unlawfully broad medical examination.  Under the ADA, the County may be made to pay the employee’s attorneys fees for the trial and appeal.fjc_bio

The verdict is a striking reminder of the importance of the ADA, which not only protects disabled employees but also protects employees perceived as disabled, and at the same time protects employee health information.  The ADA is meant to enable employment and facilitate appropriate discussions to continue and safeguard employment. The ADA is meant to protect employees from unduly broad examinations and inquiries of health information by employers.

Baltimore County went too far here, inquiring too much, and terminating, not facilitating, employment for the employee.