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Pennsylvania Verdicts

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Mechanic's lifting restriction was suddenly no longer tolerated

Amount:

$5,550,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Pennsylvania

Venue:

Federal

Court:

U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh

Injury Type(s):

mental/psychological-emotional distress

Case Type:

Civil Rights - ADA; Employment - Age Discrimination, Constructive Discharge, Failure to Accommodate, Disability Discrimination

Case Name:

Albert E. Gucker v. U.S. Steel Corp., No. 2:13-cv-00583-NBF

Date:

February 12, 2016

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Albert E. Gucker (Male, 61 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Paul A. Tershel; Tershel & Associates; Washington, PA, for Albert E. Gucker ■ Jarrod T. Takah; Tershel & Associates; Washington, PA, for Albert E. Gucker

Defendant(s):

U.S. Steel Corp.

Defense Attorney(s):

Rodney M. Torbic; U.S. Steel Corporation; Pittsburgh, PA, for U.S. Steel Corp. ■ Samuel F. Reynolds Jr.; U.S. Steel Corporation; Pittsburgh, PA, for U.S. Steel Corp.

Facts:

On Dec. 28, 2011, plaintiff Albert Gucker, 61, a mechanic, was constructively discharged from U.S. Steel, in Pittsburgh. He had worked at the company for more than 30 years. Since 2003, he had restrictions on lifting (no more than 30 pounds) and climbing, due to an arthritic knee. On Dec. 28, Gucker, who had returned to work after a one-month recovery from gallbladder surgery, underwent a return-to-work exam by a company physician. The doctor released him for work with the same 30-pound restriction he had for the past eight years. Five hours later, a new supervisor allegedly told Gucker that his limitations would not be tolerated and that he was to have them removed. The next day, Gucker applied for Social Security disability insurance, and he was determined to be disabled as of Dec. 28. Gucker sued U.S. Steel Corp. on claims of violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). (The court dismissed Gucker's ADEA claim at trial.) Gucker's counsel asserted that, despite his work restrictions and ongoing evaluations by company physicians, who regularly released him to work, he had received no complaints or negative reports about his job performance, and there were never any safety issues raised regarding his restrictions. Following his constructive discharge, Gucker underwent a functional-capacity evaluation by the company, which deemed him unable to work. Gucker's counsel argued that the evaluation was inaccurate and was performed with the sole intent to eliminate his ability to work at U.S. Steel. Moreover, the evaluation was done while Gucker was off his heart medication. U.S. Steel either knew or should have known the effect it would have on the test, yet it proceeded with the exam, Gucker's counsel asserted. The defense maintained that no violations to the ADA and PHRA were made, since Gucker failed his functional-capacity evaluation, which accurately concluded that he was physically unfit to continue his duties at U.S. Steel. The physicians who evaluated Gucker testified about their conclusions and how Gucker was not physically sound to continue working at U.S. Steel.

Injury:

Gucker claimed that he associated his life with his career at U.S. Steel, and his inability to work there was devastating. Despite his work restrictions, he never fell short of a project or refused a job, Gucker claimed. Gucker sought to recover punitive and compensatory damages under the ADA, and compensatory damages under the PHRA. His counsel noted that U.S. Steel's net worth was a few billion dollars.

Result:

The jury found that Gucker was a qualified individual with a disability and that U.S. Steel should have accommodated him. Jurors determined that U.S. Steel terminated him because of his disability or that he suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability. According to the jury, U.S. Steel did not prove that accommodating Gucker's disability would not be possible because it would threaten his safety or the safety of others. The jury concluded that U.S. Steel terminated Gucker because of his disability and that it had knowledge that it was violating the law or may have been violating the law. Gucker was determined to receive $5.55 million.

Albert E. Gucker: $5,000,000 Personal Injury: Punitive Exemplary Damages$550,000 Personal Injury: compensatory damages

Trial Information:

Judge:

Nora Barry Fischer

Trial Length:

2  weeks

Trial Deliberations:

7  hours

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter's phone calls.