EEOC sues law firm over 75-lb. lifting requirement

by Walter Olson on February 19, 2013

“The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice on behalf of a former office assistant who claims disability discrimination over a lifting requirement.” The job’s requirements, at the firm’s North Carolina headquarters, allegedly included moving heavy boxes of documents; according to the complaint, the law firm did not adequately consider accommodations such as letting her divide up the contents of the boxes and use push carts. Womble Carlyle declined to comment. [Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal]

{ 10 comments }

1 marco73 02.19.13 at 10:04 am

According to the article, an office worker is supposed to lift 75 lb boxes and shove around a 750 lb cart. A standard issue case of copy paper weighs about 35-40 lbs, and I sure don’t see anyone expecting office workers to carry those around.
This is a law office, not a meat packing plant.
I’d sure like to see one of the partners heft a 75 lb box.
In my office, if anyone tries to carry anything heavier than a laptop, they are going to get a stern talking to.

I’ll bet there is more going on here…

2 Mike 02.19.13 at 11:56 am

Interesting. The employer may not set the job duties, that is up to the EEOC.

3 MattS 02.19.13 at 3:45 pm

Mike,

Of course it’s not up to the EEOC to set the job duties. According to the EEOC it’s up to the applicant to set the job duties. :)

4 Mike 02.19.13 at 4:10 pm

Heh. Good one.

5 gitarcarver 02.19.13 at 4:54 pm

marco73,

I agree with you when you cite the article on the weight limits.

However, just to be clear, the actual lawsuit says the woman was required to “lift or move items up to 75 pounds, and to be able to push or pull machines on wheels weighing up to 700 pounds.”

The “or” in “lift or move” left out of the article seems important to me for some reason.

I agree with you that there is more going on here than meets the eye.

6 asdfasdf 02.19.13 at 5:30 pm

For those who don’t work in law offices: a law office can’t have office workers reaching into boxes of documents and dividing them up into smaller boxes. Doing so would create a substantial risk of a documents becoming disarranged or put into the wrong box, which could have devastating consequences. The EEOC is suggesting in her lawsuit that the worker split up a large box of documents into seven smaller groups of documents and move each of those separately.

7 Anna 02.19.13 at 7:11 pm

Don’t know about law offices, but I have worked in offices where the documents were sealed in their boxes, i.e. classified, and opening them and closing them was a big deal requiring witnesses.

8 No Name Guy 02.19.13 at 7:17 pm

asdfasdf: Well the CLEAR answer is to then use smaller boxes – I’m sure the EEOC will mandate acceptable box sizes soon. Any box larger than the acceptable size is clear evidence of discrimination. Or, as a “reasonable accommodation” will require powered carts with little cranes to pick up the boxes if, goodness forbid, the lawyers just have to have the larger boxes. Of course, then the crane operators union will have to get involved for the cranes, and powered carts CLEARLY are within the purview of the Teamsters union. /snark

9 wfjag 02.19.13 at 9:24 pm

@Marco73:
“This is a law office, not a meat packing plant.
I’d sure like to see one of the partners heft a 75 lb box.
In my office, if anyone tries to carry anything heavier than a laptop, they are going to get a stern talking to.”

However, according to the story, the complaintant is ” a former office assistant “.

I don’t doubt your observations. I’ve seen many a senior partner who appeared to have trouble lifting himself out of his chair, much less carrying a trial brief case. And, if you want to get the 4,000 or whatever number of billable hours per year from associates, you can’t have them hurting themselves hefting heavy boxes and objects, either. That is why there are “office assistant[s]“. *

If there is more going on, then that should be the issue and not litigation over a pretext. If not, then the question should be did she know of the job requirement when she took the job. If not, then she may have a case. But, if so, then she’s trying to change the rules afterwards and should be denied a remedy. (Yes, I know that isn’t the EEOC standard).

* I don’t have an “office assistant”, so I (and the other attorneys and our paralegals) have to heft our own damn boxes in and out of storeage. Although a computerphobe, I really am learning to like scanning to discs.

10 Amy Alkon 02.23.13 at 1:46 pm

I get nauseated and have to put my head down and try to sleep if the plane has the slightest bit of turbulence. Would an airline, these days, be allowed to refuse me employment as a flight attendant?

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