Richmond pays former employee $150,000 to settle ADA complaint

June 3, 2019

Joe Mahoney/Times-Dispatch

The city of Richmond has agreed to pay a former employee $150,000 to settle a lawsuit claiming its administrators violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Osby Terry, a former Department of Public Utilities worker, filed the lawsuit in federal court last June. Terry hurt his knee while on the clock, leading to a permanent disability that he claimed the city failed to accommodate as required by federal law before ultimately terminating him, according to his lawsuit.

Richard E. Hill Jr., who represented the city on the matter, confirmed the payout. He declined to provide a copy of the settlement agreement, citing a discretionary exemption in the state’s open record law that allows public bodies to withhold “contracts settling public employee employment disputes held confidential as personnel records.”

Terry sought back pay and an unspecified amount of punitive and compensatory damages. He also wanted to be reinstated to his position with the city. His lawyer, Craig Curwood, declined comment on the settlement.

Terry worked for the Department of Public Utilities from October 2004 to July 2014. As a commercial meter technician, he was responsible for inspecting, replacing or testing gas and water meters either in the field or at a DPU facility in South Richmond. The department employed about a dozen of the workers, and typically assigned at least one or two of them to work at the facility on “shop” duty on any given shift, according to the lawsuit.

In October 2011, Terry tore his meniscus while on the job. The knee injury limited his ability to walk, but he continued to work after his supervisor assigned him to shop duty at the DPU facility. The arrangement persisted as the effects of Terry’s injury lingered and his mobility was hampered, according to the lawsuit.

In late summer 2013, a doctor determined Terry’s knee injury was “permanent.” Soon after, Terry claimed the city notified him he was “unable to. perform the essential functions” of his job, according to the lawsuit.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to accommodate employees with a disability if the disability is known to them and the employee is otherwise qualified to do a job. Depending on what type of disability is at issue, these range from changing the layout of an office where an employee with a disability is assigned to work, providing equipment to assist with the completion of tasks or restructuring an employee’s schedule or job responsibilities.

Under its own guidelines, the city had to determine whether there was another job in the Department of Public Utilities that Terry could perform with his disability. After two months, the city notified Terry it could not find one. Then, the department’s leadership initiated a search to fill his job, according to the lawsuit.

Terry continued working at the DPU facility on shop duty through the search, according to the lawsuit, which states that city administrators never spoke with him about what “reasonable accommodations” the city could provide so he could continue in the role.

The city terminated Terry effective July 11 after determining he could no longer perform the “physical and dexterity requirements” of the position, according to the lawsuit. Those include routine heavy lifting and carrying of objects that are more than 35 pounds, as well as frequently exerting 100 pounds of force, according to a city job description cited in the lawsuit.

In a response to Terry’s initial complaint, the city denied that administrators did not discuss potential accommodations with Terry, who wanted to continue in the position on shop duty as he had for the three years after the injury. But the city’s lawyer argued making any reasonable accommodations for Terry would have “imposed an undue hardship on the city.”