Employee Fired for Sleeping on the Job Is Entitled To A Jury Trial Because Employer Should Have Considered Its ADA Obligations Before Terminating Employee


In Spurling v. C&M Fine Pack, Inc., the employee received three write-ups for performance and a final warning with a suspension for sleeping in the bathroom while working on the night shift. Subsequently, Spurling’s supervisor again found her asleep at work. Spurling was suspended pending a determination of whether she would be discharged. The next day, Spurling notified C&M that her performance issues might be related to a medical condition. Spurling’s physician completed C&M’s American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) form, stating that Spurling had a disability covered by the ADA, the disability caused her to exhibit excessive drowsiness that affected her job performance, and that an additional medical work up was in progress. After receiving the form, C&M did not speak to Spurling again before discharging her. The district court granted summary judgment for C&M on the basis that C&M was not previously aware of Spurling’s medical condition before it suspended her pending discharge.  However, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding that C&M fired Spurling after C&M learned that Spurling had a disability, and holding that C&M had a duty to determine, by engaging in the interactive process with Spurling, whether a reasonable accommodation could be made. The Seventh Circuit also held that only an employer who has given "unequivocal notice of termination" before learning of an employee's disability can assert that it has no obligation to engage in the interactive process. This case is significant because an employer may understandably question why an employee waited until a situation rose to the level of discharge to notify the employer that his or her medical condition was causing or contributing to the situation.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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