Partially Blind Employee Settles Suit Against Coca Cola

Partially Blind Employee Settles Suit Against Coca Cola

A Westfield man who was canned by Coca Cola in 2008 after learning he was blind in one eye was recently awarded $120,636 plus interest in damages against the beverage giant by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

The full commission of MCAD upheld the ruling of its hearing commissioner that found that Coca-Cola Company of North America discriminated against Marc Kogut of Westfield, a former employee of the Coca Cola’s Northampton bottling production plant.

“I’m not surprised at all,” said Timothy Ryan, a Springfield lawyer who represented Kogut. “It’s a clear case of discrimination.”

Kogut was awarded $75,000 for emotional distress and $45,636 for lost wages after Coca Cola terminated him from his temporary job as machine operator and revoked its offer of employment for a full-time position, according to the MCAD summary of facts.

The MCAD also awarded a separate amount of $79,010 in attorney fees and $3,528 in legal costs.

Kogut began working for Coca Cola in July of 2007, in as a temporary machine operator employee.

In January of 2008, he was offered full time employment, and was recommended for the job by the Northampton plant’s production supervisor.

Kogut had a physical examination as mandated for the full-time job, and he told the physician that he was permanently blind in his left eye due to a car accident. Coca Cola, upon learning of handicap, terminated Kogut and revoked its offer of full-time employment, the MCAD summary stated.

Coca Cola had argued that Kogut’s employment included the need to operate a forklift and that his blindness in one eye “posed a direct threat to health and safety” to himself and others.

The hearing officer determined that forklift driving was not an essential function of the entry level machine operator position and that Coca Cola failed to have an ‘interactive discussion’ with Kogut, and failed to determine if there was a possible “reasonable accommodation” for his handicap prior to terminating the employee.

The hearing officer concluded that Coca Cola’s reasons for terminating Kogut and rescinded offer of full-time employment “amounted to unjustified considerations of and misconceptions about his handicap.”

A lawyer for Coca Cola could not be reached for comment. Coca Cola has the right to appeal the MCAD ruling with a county Superior Court, according to the MCAD decision.

The monetary damages accrue interest set at 12 percent per annum from the time of filing in April of 2008, Ryan said.

The hearing officer, as part of her finding, said the evidence showed that Kogut had been performing satisfactorily in his job for seven months, and was recommended for the full-time job.

Instead of engaging in dialogue, the decision to terminate Kogut “was based upon a conference call with upper level managers and staff who did not work directly with (Kogut),” the MCAD summary said. “There was neither consideration nor discussion about any reasonable accommodation to permit (Kogut) to continue to work. Nor was there any evidence the (Coca Cola’s) supervisor was consulted…”

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Article By: Peter Goonan, visit: www.MassLive.com