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By: Robyn M. Flegal
In 2011, Rite Aid began requiring its pharmacists to perform in-store immunizations. One of Rite Aid’s pharmacists, Christopher Stevens, who had been employed with the company and its predecessors for thirty-four years, obtained a note from his doctor stating that he had a phobia of needles (trypanophobia) so severe that it caused him lightheadedness, paleness, and caused him to feel faint. Mr. Stevens asserted that his phobia was a covered disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and requested a reasonable accommodation. Rite Aid subsequently terminated Mr. Stevens. After a trial, the jury awarded substantial damages to Mr. Stevens. Thereafter, the trial court denied Rite Aid’s motion for judgment as a matter of law as to Mr. Stevens’ wrongful discharge and retaliation claims, but dismissed Mr. Stevens’ failure-to-accommodate claim.
Unfortunately for Mr. Stevens and his trypanophobia, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit determined that performing immunizations was an essential function of the job of a Rite Aid pharmacist, and held that no reasonable accommodation could have allowed Mr. Stevens to perform his essential job functions. According to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the evidence compelled a finding that providing immunization injections was an essential job requirement for Rite Aid pharmacists, in part, because the evidence showed that Rite Aid made the business decision to update its job descriptions to require pharmacists to obtain immunization certificates.
The Court additionally held that there was no reasonable accommodation that could have allowed Mr. Stevens to perform the essential job function of administering injections. The Court took shots at Mr. Stevens’ arguments that Rite Aid could have offered desensitization therapy, hired a nurse to give vaccinations, or assigned him to a dual-pharmacist location.
If employers have liticaphobia (a fear of lawsuits) they should be sure to update employee job descriptions when placing additional obligations upon employees. For more information contact Robyn Flegal at [email protected].