Disability discrimination: Is supervisor liable?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects disabled employees from discrimination in the workplace.
By Raymond Dreyfack November 1, 1998

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects disabled employees from discrimination in the workplace. It also requires employers to provide accommodation for “qualified individuals” unless that accommodation imposes an undue hardship on the employer.

Instrument Repairman Louis Lustig, who Maintenance Foreman Murray Coleman regarded as a “so-so employee,” had developed a macro degeneration problem and was categorized as “industrially blind.” When Coleman decided to fire Lustig as “no longer able to perform his duties efficiently,” the repairman protested on the grounds that his performance was as efficient and competent as the other two members of his group. He claimed to have evidence to prove his contention, and also said it would help if lighting improvements were installed.

“Sorry,” Coleman replied. “The decision has already been made.”

Lustig accused the foreman of bias under the ADA. Coleman insisted no such bias was involved. “It’s my responsibility to run the operation in a way I regard as efficient and productive.”

“You’ve always had a grudge against me,” Lustig persisted. He threatened to sue the foreman personally if he didn’t rescind the termination.

Question : Assuming discrimination can be proven, is Coleman personally liable?

Talbot’s verdict: Plant Engineer Phil Talbot assured Coleman that the ADA does not impose individual liability on supervisors. But he added, “If you insist on firing Lustig, you’d better make damn sure of your facts. I would advise you to check his claim that he has evidence to prove he’s as efficient and competent as coworkers in the same job. And double check the lighting situation in his area. Firing a disabled person is justifiable only as a last ditch resort where his poor performance is irremediable, and such as to endanger the operation or cause irreparable harm.”