UPS Manager’s Disability Does Not Excuse Perceived Racist Comment

Christopher Schaffhauser, a white male, sued United Parcel Services (UPS) after he was demoted from manager to supervisor for saying he would hit an African-American coworker so hard it would “knock the black off him.” Schaffhauser’s lawsuit asserted race discrimination and a failure to accommodate his medical condition.  This note focuses on the ADA failure to accommodate claim.

The Court described the circumstances leading to Schaffhauser’s demotion as follows:  In February 2012, Schaffhauser was chatting with Neal L. Sharkey (an African-American manager), Quentin Goodwin (an African-American supervisor), and Harold A. Williams (an African-American supervisor).   According to Schaffhauser, Goodwin said, “I wish Rodney Barefield would take a swing at me and I would knock that mother**r out.”  Schaffhauser commented, “If he ever hit me, I would hit him so hard it’d knock the black off him.” Schaffhauser admitted making the comment and acknowledged that it could be construed as racist, but insisted he was just joking and did not intend it to be racist.

Barefield filed grievances after learning of the incident.  Faced with the prospect of demotion for violating UPS’s anti-harassment policies, Schaffhauser claimed that his medical condition was a contributing factor to his poor choice of words.  In particular, Schaffhauser claimed that a steroid shot he received caused physical and neurological changes, including high blood pressure, mood swings, and increased irritability.  He claimed the shot impaired his neurological system and substantially limited his ability to interact [appropriately] with others.  Schaffhauser asked to retain his position as manager, because the effects of the steroid shot (for some unspecified medical condition) impaired his judgment and contributed to him making a perceived racist comment.

The Court dismissed his ADA claim.  At no time before making his inappropriate comment did Schaffhauser request accommodation for a disability or even give UPS notice that he had a disability.  It was only after the incident that Schaffhauser asked UPS to take his medical condition into account in its assessment of discipline.

The Court found that even if Schaffhauser’s request for leniency could be consider a request for a reasonable accommodation, it was a case of too little too late.  “[L]iabiilty [for failure to accommodate a disability] is not established where an employee engages in misconduct, learns of an impending adverse employment action, and then informs his employer of a disability that is the supposed cause of the prior misconduct.”  In other words, the law does not require an employer to excuse misconduct when an employee asserts for the first time, after-the-fact, the misconduct was the result or symptom of a disability.

Schaffhauser v. UPS, Inc., No. 14-1279 (8th Cir. July 23, 2015)

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