Tricore Wins Disability Discrimination Suit Brought by The EEOC

Lisa Mann and Alex Walker of Modrall, Sperling, Roehl, Harris & Sisk, PA in Albuquerque, New Mexico recently obtained a judgment in favor of TriCore Reference Laboratories (TriCore) in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). The EEOC brought suit against Albuquerque, N.M. based TriCore, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The EEOC claimed that the not-for-profit regional diagnostic testing laboratory failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to Rhonda Wagoner-Alison, a Clinical Laboratory Assistant at Presbyterian’s Kaseman Hospital.

The suit charged TriCore with violating the ADA in 2007 when, following an ankle surgery, Ms. Wagoner-Alison was not returned to her duties as a Clinical Lab Assistant. The EEOC also claimed that TriCore subsequently terminated Ms. Wagoner-Alison because of her disability. The EEOC’s lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico on September 29, 2009 (Case No. 09 CV-00956) after TriCore rejected the EEOC’s pre-litigation settlement demands.

Senior U.S. District Judge John E. Conway granted summary judgment to TriCore, finding that the EEOC failed to prove even a prima facie case with regard to either of its theories of discrimination. Judge Conway first determined that Ms. Wagoner-Alison’s ankle injury rendered her unable to perform the essential functions of her job, with or without accommodation, meaning she was not an “otherwise qualified individual with a disability” for purposes of the ADA and unable to assert a valid failure to accommodate claim. Judge Conway further concluded that TriCore removed Ms. Wagoner-Alison from a sedentary position (an accommodation that, Judge Conway noted, TriCore was not even required to provide under the ADA) because of her continued poor performance, which performance was not in any way related to any physical condition or disability.

Judge Conway subsequently granted TriCore’s Motion for Order Deeming the EEOC’s Claims as Frivolous, Unreasonable, or Without Foundation and indicated that he will exercise his discretion to award TriCore its reasonable attorney’s fees.