Texas – Wired PR News — The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled for an employer in a disability discrimination case. EEOC v. Argo Distrib. LLC, No. 07-60447, available at http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/07/07-60447-CV0.wpd.pdf (5th Cir. Jan. 15, 2009). Henry Velez’s medical condition prevented him from perspiring, but he could perform manual labor if he drank water, took breaks, or used a fan. When Velez’s employer, Argo Distribution, LLC, asked Velez to assist with a manual labor project, Velez claimed he would get too hot, and he did not report for work. Argo fired Velez.
Velez pursued the matter with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC investigated, attempted to conciliate for a high sum, and later sued on Velez’s behalf. Argo successfully moved for summary judgment and was awarded approximately $225,000 in attorneys’ fees. The EEOC appealed.
The Court first determined that the EEOC’s failure to comply with its statutory duty to attempt meaningful conciliation did not deprive the Court of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court then affirmed summary judgment. First, because Velez regulated his body temperature like a non-disabled person would, his condition did not “substantially limit” a major life activity, and thus he was not “disabled.” Further, because Velez failed to report to work, no evidence suggested that Argo would have denied Velez’s request for an accommodation. Finally, the Court affirmed the attorneys’ fees award because the EEOC’s pursuit of the case after Velez’s deposition was groundless.