Local attorneys announced Friday that they had won $60,000 against the city of Sherman in the case of a former city of Sherman mechanic who sued because he felt he was fired in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Ronnie Jackson filed the suit in October of 2106 saying that he worked for the city for nine years as a mechanic. He said he injured his knee on the job on July 11, 2014. He was lead mechanic at the city at the time of the injury. In April of 2015, Jackson’s doctor, Stephen Sandoval, released him to return to work with light duty with the restrictions that he not climb stairs or ladders, and that he not lift anything, carry objects or walk for long periods of time.
The suit said that Wayne Blackwell, city of Sherman Human Resources administrator, offered Jackson a modified duty position as a data entry person with the city. Jackson accepted the offer and went to work at that position. The suit says Jackson was fired on Sept. 2, 2015 by Clay Barnett, director of Public Works & Engineering. Jackson said the reason he was given for his dismissal was that he was unable to perform one or more essential functions of his job because his doctor had said he was permanently unable to lift or carry objects weighing more than 25 pounds, or to kneel, squat or climb stairs or ladders.
Jackson said that the job he was assigned to in data entry did not require him to do any of those things. As a lead mechanic, the suit said, Jackson made $17 an hour and as a data entry person he made $17.10 an hour. The suit says he thinks he was terminated because he filed a claim with the Texas Industrial Accident Board.
Attorney Darrell Noga represented the city in the case. In a previous story, he said that Jackson was let go because he could not return to his job as lead mechanic and the city had to fill that position. Noga said the temporary work that the city found for Jackson in data entry was never intended to replace the job as a mechanic and that the city contends that Jackson knew that.
Ron Huff, along with the Richardson law firm, represented Jackson. He said that the jury found that accommodating Jackson would not have caused the city any undue hardship.
“We are pleased for our client. We’re just pleased that he got some justice (from) the city. We hope the city management will stop treating its hardworking employees this way for reason,” Huff said. “They all go to seminars about this. We don’t think it is too much to expect that they follow the law. It is not complex. We expect them to follow the law like everyone else.”
Huff said the judgment will likely be paid by the Texas Municipal League. When asked if it would cost the city more money to belong to that league after the verdict, Huff said he doesn’t know, but he does know that the laws have been in place since 1990 and the city should know how to follow them.
“Maybe the citizens need to evaluate who is in charge of the city and why they can’t follow the law,” Huff said.
In a written statement from Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch, the city of Sherman said, “Everyone has sympathy for Ronnie — he suffered a horrific injury that forced him to change careers. But sympathy isn’t a legitimate legal reason to award damages despite the law. The City is exploring its appellate options.”