In Beaton v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority New York City Transit, Docket No. 15 CV 08056 (S.D.N.Y. June 15, 2016), the Court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s disability discrimination claims under the ADA and local laws.  The case is significant because it addressed an alleged  mental disability.  By way of background, Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as a station agent in a subway station in New York City for over ten years.  Plaintiff alleged, among other things, that Defendant terminated his employment on the basis of his disability (schizophrenia) and the effects of the medication used to treat that condition.  Specifically, Plaintiff’s employment was suspended, and thereafter terminated, after Plaintiff’s supervisor discovered him sleeping during work time.  Plaintiff alleged that while working he experienced severe schizophrenia symptoms, necessitating a higher dosage of his anti-psychotic prescription medication.  The higher dosage caused drowsiness.  Plaintiff advised his supervisor of his condition and the related side effect.  Plaintiff nevertheless was subjected to disciplinary proceedings, despite corroboration from his physician, and terminated from his employment.  In rebuttal, the Transportation Authority argued that Plaintiff could not proceed with his disability discrimination, in part, because: (1) sleeping on the job prevents an employee from performing the essential functions of the job, thus making him not qualified for the position; and (2) Plaintiff did not raise a plausible inference that his employment was terminated because of his disability.

The Court held that Plaintiff was a long-tenured employee, having worked for years without incident.  Thus, found the Court, he was qualified for the position under the law.  The Court further held that it was plausible that Plaintiff’s employment was terminated because of his disability given that Plaintiff advised his supervisor of his condition, and nonetheless, Defendant terminated his employment.  Though employers are permitted to discipline employees for policy violations, despite a disability, compliance with the interactive process is important – including relying upon medical information.  Courts have upheld discharges for sleeping on the job, but increasingly will demand proof of an interactive process to address disabilities and perhaps more proof of hard to the employer’s business operations.  Employers need to have a very strong basis to disregard appropriate medical information when disciplining an employee.

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Photo of Paul J. Siegel Paul J. Siegel

Paul J. Siegel is a Principal in the Long Island, New York office of Jackson Lewis P.C.  For many years he was the chair of the firm’s national Wage and Hour Practice Group.  Mr. Siegel has represented management in wage hour, employment discrimination, affirmative action and labor matters since 1976.  He regularly appears before federal and state agencies and courts in various equal employment, wage hour and labor law matters.  In April of 1991, Mr. Siegel argued a landmark age discrimination case before the United States Supreme Court.

Mr. Siegel graduated magna cum laude from the State University of New York at Buffalo (Phi Beta Kappa) in 1973 and received his Juris Doctor degree with honors from Emory University School of Law in 1976.  Mr. Siegel frequently addresses supervisors and managers to assist them in developing the skills needed to manage effectively in today’s challenging legal environment.  He has appeared on national and local television and radio, and has presented seminars and written articles concerning wage hour, affirmative action, discrimination and labor law matters across the country.  A 2003 peer survey identified him as one of Long Island’s top ten employment attorneys.

In the insurance industry, he is a member of the Professional Liability Underwriters Society (PLUS) and has been a featured speaker at PLUS, National Association of Professional Surplus Lines Offices (NAPSLO), Professional Insurance Agents (PIA), Professional Insurance Wholesalers Association (PIWA), and Risk & Insurance Management Society (RIMS) conferences.  He has lectured about employment issues to meetings of the New York and Kentucky Bar Associations, the 1998 Conference of Justices of the Courts of the State of New York and many other industry groups.

Education

  • Emory University, 
J.D., 1976
  • State University of New York at Buffalo, 
B.A., 1973 
Phi Beta Kappa

Bar & Professional Association Memberships

  • New York State Bankers Association
  • New York State Bar Association
  • Professional Liability Underwriters Society