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Employee Must Meet Employer in the Middle for ADA Claim

In 2014, Arctic Zone Iceplex, LLC (Arctic) hired James Graham to maintain the company’s ice rink and operate its Zamboni (a machine that smooths the surface of the ice rink). Throughout his employment, Arctic was aware that there were issues with Graham’s work, there were complaints about his attitude from customers and he did not complete his work on time. However, the company did not write him up. In 2015, Graham sustained a work injury; he returned to work with medical restrictions, including the requirement that he work sitting down. Arctic assigned him to skate sharpening. The company considered it a task that could be performed sitting down. Graham believed he had to stand to complete it and thus it did not conform with his restrictions. He did not advise Arctic of his issue. Once Graham came back full-time several months later, he was assigned to the evening shifts. He perceived this reassignment as a demotion, although there was no change in title or pay. Within a couple of months, Graham had an accident involving the Zamboni that resulted in damage to the rink and alleged hazard to customers. He was immediately fired.

Arctic provided five reasons to support Graham’s termination: poor attitude about his job change, customer complaints, timeliness in completing his work, insubordination with management, and the Zamboni accident. Graham sued for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The case was presented before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed summary judgment for Arctic. First, the court found that Graham had failed to hold up his responsibility to engage in the interactive process. Because Graham did not advise the company that skate sharpening violated his medical restrictions, the company did not have enough information to determine appropriate accommodations. Second, Arctic’s decision not to discuss his performance issues with him does not preclude it from using those issues as a basis for termination. Graham’s attempt to claim he had been treated worse than another employee who crashed a Zamboni also failed as that other employee had a sterling performance record and the other accident was not a hazard for customers.