Seventh Circuit Allows Bridge Worker with Fear of Heights to Pursue Disability Discrimination Claim


As previously reported, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act and the EEOC’s recently published final regulations significantly expand the definition of disability and the potential number of employees who may pursue claims of discrimination, retaliation or failure to accommodate under the ADA. Now more than ever, employers must pay attention to their obligations under the ADA. The Seventh Circuit recently published a decision in Miller v. Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which illustrates the importance of maintaining consistent and effective procedures for responding to accommodation requests.


Darrell Miller had a fear of heights. In 2002, Miller was hired by IDOT to work on bridge maintenance and repair. For years, IDOT allowed him to swap certain high altitude tasks with his fellow crew members because of his fear. In March 2006, however, Miller filed a grievance against IDOT complaining that he had been assigned to perform an unsafe task at a high altitude. Less than two weeks later, Miller suffered a panic attack while trying to change a light bulb on a bridge beam. After the incident, IDOT placed Miller on sick leave and ordered him to complete a fitness-for-duty examination. IDOT’s medical examiner formally diagnosed Miller with acrophobia and deemed him unfit to perform his job. Miller requested IDOT to continue to allow his coworkers to perform tasks he was afraid to perform, as it had done in the past, and his request was denied. Miller filed another grievance and was ordered back to work on May 1, 2007. IDOT fired Miller about a month later for commenting to another employer that he’d “like to knock the teeth out” of a coworker whom he disliked.

Miller subsequently filed an ADA lawsuit against IDOT alleging disability discrimination, retaliation and failure to reasonably accommodate a disability.

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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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