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Higgins v. Union Pac. R.R. Co.

United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

May 16, 2019, Submitted; July 24, 2019, Filed

No. 18-1902


 [*666]  MELLOY, Circuit Judge.

Jon Higgins has chronic back pain. He asked his employer, Union Pacific Railroad ("Union Pacific"), to accommodate his back pain by allowing him to take time off "as necessary" and receive "24 hours of rest per shift (between shifts)." Union Pacific denied his request. Higgins then sued Union Pacific for, among other things, disparate treatment and failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The district court1 granted summary judgment in favor of Union Pacific. We affirm.

 [*667]  I. Background

Higgins began working for Union Pacific in 1976 as a Locomotive Engineer. He was based out of North Platte, Nebraska, and typically worked on trains routed from North Platte to Council Bluffs, [**2]  Iowa. Higgins's responsibilities included regulating the speed of the trains and ensuring compliance with safety protocols. Between 1989 and 1992, Higgins suffered two spine-related injuries while performing his job responsibilities. In 1992, Higgins entered into a settlement agreement with Union Pacific in which he released his personal injury claims against Union Pacific in exchange for payment and "the right to lay off whenever his back bother[ed] him."2

On March 12, 1992, Dr. Brittan, Higgins's physician at the time, wrote a letter to Union Pacific stating that Higgins was cleared to work "with the only restriction being that he should not go out more often than every 24 hours." On June 29, 1992, Union Pacific's Assistant Medical Director, Dr. Richard Peters, wrote to Union Pacific's Superintendent, John Holm that "[t]he medical director's office supports the restriction that on occasion Jon Higgins should not go out on a job assignment more than once every 24 hours." On April 7, 1993, Union Pacific's new Superintendent, M.E. Ring, wrote a letter to Higgins stating, "[t]his letter serves as an acknowledgment of the agreement between you and former Superintendent[,] . . . John Holm, [**3]  with regard to allowable lay-offs." Ring further wrote that while "I have no problem with you laying off when medically necessary[,] . . . lost work periods will be monitored for frequency and timing, and in no way exempt you from discipline if abused."

Several years later, on January 25, 1999, Dr. Brittan wrote another letter to Union Pacific confirming that Higgins's work restrictions were still necessary. The letter stated, "Mr. Higgins has a long standing back injury and his restrictions . . . have been permanent up till now. As far as I know, nothing has changed medically that would require those restrictions to be changed . . . ." On October 26, 1999, Union Pacific agreed that Higgins would continue "not [to] be disciplined as the result of him being absent from service."

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931 F.3d 664 *; 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 22072 **; 18 Accom. Disabilities Dec. (CCH) P18-189; 2019 WL 3311145

Jon D. Higgins, Plaintiff - Appellant v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., Defendant - Appellee

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Nebraska - Omaha.

Higgins v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 303 F. Supp. 3d 945, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51771 (D. Neb., Mar. 28, 2018)


attendance, accommodation, essential function, shifts, back pain, layoff, reasonable accommodation, lay-offs, Engineers, district court, employees, restrictions, scheduled, disabled, train

Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Appropriateness, Appeals, Summary Judgment Review, Standards of Review, Labor & Employment Law, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Burden Shifting, Disparate Treatment, Circumstantial & Direct Evidence, Employee Burdens of Proof, Disability Discrimination, Circumstantial Evidence, Scope & Definitions, Qualified Individuals With Disabilities, Business & Corporate Compliance, Discrimination, Reasonable Accommodations