Disability Law

Project attorney's ADA suit says Pepper Hamilton didn't accommodate his sleep disorder

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A former project attorney for Pepper Hamilton has filed a pro se lawsuit (PDF) against the Philadelphia-based national law firm, contending that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to accommodate his sleep disorder.

Andrew Fischer alleges that the law firm denied his repeated requests for a work schedule that gave him a chance to work the same full-time hours as non-disabled employees; retaliated against him for his efforts to persuade Pepper Hamilton to adjust his schedule; and failed to investigate and appropriately discipline supervisors who violated his ADA rights by scoffing at him and refusing to allow him to work for the firm’s intellectual property practice group.

(Fischer is a 1994 Villanova University law graduate and a registered patent attorney, he explains in the suit, and an IP practice leader had told him that the hours he needed to work could not only be accommodated but would actually be beneficial from the firm’s standpoint.)

Filed last week in federal court in Philadelphia, the suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and attorney’s fees. It alleges that Fischer suffered from a medically diagnosed delayed-sleep-phase disorder that kept him up at night and thus made it necessary for him to sleep in the morning. His treating physician provided Pepper Hamilton with documentation of the need for Fischer to start work in the afternoon.

The suit says the law firm had no restrictions on hours that project attorneys could work when Fischer started the job there in 2006, except that they were required to take a one-hour mandatory break for every eight hours worked.

However, after an alleged billing fraud by a contract attorney was discovered in 2008–“said contract lawyer having continued to bill and was paid for approximately eight months after he stopped showing up or working at Pepper,” the suit says–the firm tightened up. Various restrictions were eventually imposed, including a 10-hour cap on daily hours, a 200-hour cap on monthly hours and a requirement that work be performed between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Pepper Hamilton did make some accommodations to Fischer’s schedule, including allowing him to start work at noon or later and even perform some tasks in a telecommuting arrangement. However, the suit alleges that these accommodations weren’t sufficient to allow him to work the same full-time schedule as other project attorneys and says the law firm should have done more to fulfill its legal duty to reasonably accommodate Fischer’s disability.

Pepper Hamilton didn’t immediately respond Friday afternoon to a request for comment by the ABA Journal.

Hat tip: Above the Law.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Suit by Ex-Bingham Associate Claims She Was Fired Because of a Rare Sleep Disorder”

ABAJournal.com: “Firm’s job contract doesn’t require arbitration of ex-associate’s suit, appeals court says”

ABAJournal.com: “Bingham sanctioned for slow discovery response in ex-associate’s sleep disorder suit”

Santa Monica Patch: “Former Santa Monica Attorney Settles Suit Alleging She Was Fired Because of Rare Sleep Disorder”

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