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US Court of Appeals Upholds Termination of Employee Found “Sleeping” on Job

David McNary suffers from Diabetes and Graves’ Disease. He worked for Schreiber Foods as a sanitation employee on its dairy equipment. His co-workers knew of these conditions and would occasionally pitch in to help when he needed it. He was free from any work restrictions related to his health.

Nap-IMG_5344.jpgIn September 2005, while cleaning trash compactors, McNary felt dizzy and light headed. He left the compactor area, put his feet up on a table and closed his eyes.

Two supervisors found him with his head back, his mouth open, and his eyes shut. McNary explained his medical conditions and denied he was sleeping. The Company subsequently terminated him for sleeping on the job.

In January, 2006 McNary filed a complaint against Schreiber alleging a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). McNary claimed discrimination based on his physical condition. He also claimed to have informed management and co-workers about his conditions and need to take brief breaks to relieve eye pain and dizziness.

Following discovery, The District Court found that Schreiber provided a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for McNary’s termination; sleeping on the job in violation of company policy and granted Schreiber’s motion for Summary Judgment.

McNary appealed.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit stated “We review de novo the district court’s grant of summary judgment to [Schreiber]. Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

Notably, the Court of Appeals added,

“[F]ederal courts do not sit as a super-personnel department that reexamines an entity’s business decisions.” One reason we emphasize this point is that a number of plaintiffs present a sympathetic situation in which the employer’s judgment in imposing discipline may appear poor or erroneous to outsiders. It is tempting to think that the role of the federal courts is to offer a remedy in that sort of case. Whether we might believe that [Schreiber] was unduly harsh in its treatment of [McNary], however, is not a matter to be considered in deciding this appeal. Our authority is to determine only whether there is a genuine issue for trial on the question whether [Schreiber] discharged [McNary] because of his [disability].

It could be inferred from that statement that McNary might have seen a better result if he had claimed that Schreiber failed to provide reasonable accommodation for his disability. But, he sued for wrongful termination and lost in District Court and on appeal.

McNary v. Schreiber Foods, Inc. (8th Cir. 8/1/08)