Fired Zamboni driver loses discrimination appeal

A Zamboni driver that was fired after crashing the machine in an ice rink lost his appeal when the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded he failed to prove his employer failed to accommodate his disability.

In December 2014, James Graham Jr. was hired as the head mechanic and maintenance supervisor of Arctic Zone Iceplex, a Westfield skating rink. Not long after he was hired, Artic Zone began receiving customer complaints about Graham’s attitude, and his employer began noticing his difficulties completing tasks on time.

When Graham was injured on the job, he took several months off of work to recover and later returned with medical restrictions that required he work sitting down. Artic Zone attempted to giving him such a position by sharpening skates, but Graham failed to inform his employer of his belief that he could not perform the tasks while sitting.

By the time he transitioned back to driving the rink’s Zamboni, Graham was scheduled to work in the evenings, which he considered to be a “demotion.” Soon after, Graham caused a Zamboni accident that tore two feet of jagged plastic off of the rink wall and into the rink itself. He was immediately fired based on his poor attitude towards customer and his change in position, as well as his lack of timeliness, insubordination and the dangers from the accident, which also caused the Artic Zone to lose revenue.

Graham sued for discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging his former employer failed to reasonably accommodate his disability and terminated him because of it. The Indiana Southern District Court awarded judgment to Artic Zone, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed its decision, finding Graham failed to establish an issue of material fact about whether Arctic Zone discriminated against him by failing to reasonably accommodate him or by terminating him.

First, the 7th Circuit noted Artic Zone made attempts to accommodate Graham, who failed to uphold his end of the interactive process by not informing his employer that the tasks it assigned him did not comport with his medical restrictions.

“This is a textbook example of an employee ‘not provid[ing] sufficient information to the employer to determine the necessary accommodations,’” Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett wrote.

The 7th Circuit additionally found that all of Graham’s reasons as to why his termination was discriminatory – lack of notice regarding his behavioral issues, his alleged “demotion” and discriminate treatment after the accident – were faulty. It thus affirmed the lower court’s determination in James Graham, Jr. v. Arctic Zone Iceplex, LLC, 18-3508.

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