U seeks dismissal of $50,000 lawsuit

by Kamariea Forcier

A man who sustained a permanent injury while working for the University is awaiting a judge’s decision as to whether he will go to trial for claims of job discrimination.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge John Tunheim listened to University attorney Tracy M. Smith argue for the dismissal of Francis “Butch” Mayer’s claim.
Mayer is seeking damages in excess of $50,000. Plaintiffs must seek at least $50,000 damages to file such a suit.
Smith, an attorney in the University’s Office of the General Counsel, said Mayer’s disability had nothing to do with his termination in 1992.
Mayer started working for the University in 1987 as an electrical construction superintendent. The following year he suffered a permanent injury to his ankle after falling off a scaffold at work. After a January 1992 layoff from the University, Mayer applied for and was hired as a maintenance planner on a one-year probation period.
According to the complaint, Mayer spent three months working in the new position before his termination. During that time, Mayer was told several times that his job performance was “good” by his supervisors.
But Mayer was fired because he couldn’t do the job according to University standards and because of a poor attitude, Smith said. She said Mayer was not a good team player and co-workers had a difficult time getting along with him.
“His employers can give reasonable explanations for his termination,” she added.
Mayer filed the federal court claim of disability discrimination in 1995, after filing a complaint with the University Grievance Office and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Smith said the University made job accommodations for Mayer by giving him a parking space close to work and a job requiring limited physical activity. Tunheim asked Smith if Mayer should also have received a longer time to get up to speed in his new job. Smith said no.
“The University couldn’t assume if he had more time that he could have done the job well,” she said.
Karla Wahl, an attorney for Mayer, said the University did not follow its own rules in regard to Mayer’s employment. Wahl said Mayer was fired before his one-year probation period ended.
She said the University was breaking disability law because no one discussed if Mayer could meet the requirements of two other jobs he had applied for. One job required Mayer to walk for extended periods. Wahl said the University did not consider alternative means of transportation for Mayer.
Wahl said the University hired Mayer as a maintenance planner in 1992 because the job required minimal physical movement.
Also in dispute was the question of reasonable accommodation. Wahl said the University transferred Mayer to a building where an elevator was not always available for his use. Because of Mayer’s disability, he has difficulty walking and must sometimes use a wheelchair.
Mayer asked for a freight elevator key so he could get to his job more easily, but the University never gave Mayer a key, Wahl said.
“When an employer fails to accommodate, it is usually indicative of discrimination,” she said.
Smith said Mayer was not given a key because his request was lost when his supervisor left.
Wahl said Mayer is generally a likable person.
“Butch is a very friendly, affable man,” she said. “I have a hard time believing he couldn’t get along with his co-workers or that he’s not a team player.”
Wahl said civil service rules state an employee must receive periodic reviews during their probation period in order to gauge their performance level. When civil service employees receive poor reviews, employees also receive opportunities to raise job performance. This benefit was not given to Mayer, Wahl said.
After the hearing, Wahl said, “There are fact issues in dispute. We want a jury to hear this case.”
Tunheim said he would decide whether to dismiss the case or let it proceed to trial within the next few weeks.
If the case is dismissed, Wahl said her client will appeal the decision.