Schizophrenic Plaintiff Fired for Sleeping on the Job Plausibly Alleges Disability Discrimination and Retaliation, But Not Failure-to-Accommodate, Claims

In Beaton v. Metro. Transp. Auth. New York City Transit, No. 15 CIV. 8056 (ER), 2016 WL 3387301 (S.D.N.Y. June 15, 2016), the court held that plaintiff – who suffered from schizophrenia – successfully pleaded discrimination (termination) and retaliation claims, but failed to sufficiently allege a failure-to-accommodate claim.

Plaintiff’s allegations, in sum:

Plaintiff alleges that he was wrongfully accused of sleeping while on duty as an agent at a subway station in Manhattan, and was immediately suspended as a result. Plaintiff further alleges that he informed the Transit Authority that he appeared to be sleeping only because of medication he had to take for his mental illness, but that the Transit Authority decided to terminate his employment anyway, thus discriminating against him on the basis of his disability. Plaintiff also alleges that the Transit Authority failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for his disability, and that, by terminating him, the Transit Authority was retaliating in response to Plaintiff’s accusations of discrimination.

As to whether plaintiff was “disabled” under the ADA, the court explained:

Plaintiff alleges that he has suffered from chronic paranoid schizophrenia, with symptoms including depression, anxiety, paranoia, mental instability, auditory hallucinations, and the belief that other people can read his mind. He further alleges that this impairment affects several major life activities, including his ability to work, think, communicate, sleep, learn, focus, concentrate, and remain awake. Without regard to the corrective effects of medication or other measures and in light of the broad standard afforded to ADA plaintiffs, it is at least plausible that Plaintiff’s schizophrenia substantially limits his participation in these major activities. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(3)(iii) (“[I]t should easily be concluded that…at a minimum. schizophrenia substantially limit[s] brain function.”). Plaintiff therefore adequately alleges that he is disabled individual for the purposes of the ADA.

As to whether plaintiff sufficiently alleged that his disability motivated his termination (i.e., an adverse employment action), the court explained:

Plaintiff’s theory here is straightforward: He appeared to be sleeping on the job because of medication required by his disability, he explained to his supervisor that medication for his disability caused his eyes to close but was immediately suspended nonetheless, he again explained his disability and medication during the hearing process, and he was still ultimately terminated soon after. Plaintiff thus maintains that his disability was the cause of his termination. These allegations make it at least plausible that the termination was motivated by Plaintiff’s disability. … And although it would not be enough standing on its own at the summary judgment stage, the temporal proximity between Plaintiff’s disclosure to his supervisor about his disability and medication and Plaintiff’s suspension immediately thereafter adds to the plausibility of the inference here. … Accepting all its allegations as true, then, the Complaint meets the minimal threshold that Plaintiff faces at this stage. The Transit Authority may very well have evidence of nondiscriminatory reasons for the termination—such as showing that Plaintiff engaged in fireable misconduct or violated a final warning agreement—but such evidentiary disputes are not appropriate at this stage of the case.

The court, however, dismissed plaintiff’s failure-to-accommodate claims, explaining (among other things) that is complaint does not allege that plaintiff ever requested an accommodation for his disability, and plaintiff’s allegations “do not support an inference that the Transit Authority knew or should have known that Plaintiff was disabled and required an accommodation.”


While it is alleged that the Transit Authority has known about Plaintiff’s disability since 1995, the Complaint otherwise alleges that Plaintiff was able to perform as a station agent from 2000 to 2013 without incident, that he was treated by physicians every three months and had not been hospitalized for at least ten years, and that he has used Fluphenazine for a decade to maintain stable periods without schizophrenia symptoms. Plaintiff not only fails to identify a single example of a reasonable accommodation, he also fails to describe a single incident prior to December 23, 2013 that would have put the Transit Authority on notice any accommodation was ever needed. The upshot is that the Complaint simply fails to allege that the Transit Authority refused to provide a reasonable accommodation prior to December 23, 2013.

Finally, the court held that plaintiff stated a plausible retaliation claim: “[I]t was only after Plaintiff filed his EEOC charge on February 7, 2014 that the Transit Authority chose to proceed with its decision to terminate the Plaintiff at the arbitration on February 13, 2014 and March 14, 2014 [such that] it is at least plausible that Plaintiff’s EEOC charge caused the Transit Authority to retaliate by escalating Plaintiff’s suspension into final termination.”

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