So ruled the federal appeals court for the Seventh Circuit in Hoffman v. Caterpillar, Inc., 11 AD Cases 1674 (7th Cir. 2001). The employee in question had no lower left arm; her job duties involved scanning documents. She filed a “disparate treatment” claim under the ADA after her supervisor refused to train her on a high-speed scanner, arguing that the ability to use the scanner improved her chances for promotion, and that every other employee who had requested training on the scanner received it.
The employer countered that the employee’s claim was without merit, as the denial of training in no way impacted her compensation, benefits, work hours, job title, or ability to advance. As such, the employer argued that the employee could not show the “adverse employment action” required to support an ADA claim.
The court disagreed, holding that proof of adverse employment action is required only where a plaintiff has indirect or circumstantial evidence of discrimination. In the employee’s case, however, there was direct proof of discrimination: she asked her supervisor for training, and he denied it to her specifically because she had only one hand. As such, the need to show adverse employment action was eliminated.
As to whether the denial of training amounted to discrimination, the supervisor argued that he had refused training because two hands were needed to operate the scanner, and because the scanner controls were on the side where the employee had no hand. The court called this assessment into question by noting that the employee was not given the chance to try running the scanner, and remanded the case to the lower court for further fact-finding.