Cable Giant Sued by Former Employee for Disability Discrimination, Failure to Provide Reasonable Accommodation and Wrongful Discharge

Charter Communications, which offers telecommunications services under the brand Spectrum, faces a lawsuit by a former employee who was injured on the job for failing to accommodate the disability the injury caused, discrimination against him because of that disability, as well as wrongful termination.

Akobi Schuster began working for Charter as a cable technician in February 2016, according to the complaint. He claims his performance was satisfactory, that he received positive feedback from his supervisors and did not receive any sort of discipline from them.

In December 2016, while installing a cable box at a customer’s residence, a malfunction occurred when Schuster plugged the box into an electrical outlet, it emitted a loud noise, much smoke as well as a liquid that hit him in his right eye.  He removed the faulty cable box, informed his dispatcher what had happened, and completed the job by installing a different model.

After reporting the incident to his supervisor, Schuster sought medical treatment at a nearby emergency room.  He claims he was suffering from serious head and eye pain and was diagnosed with chemical conjunctivitis and prescribed an antibiotic. The doctor gave Schuster clearance to return to work in three days. When he returned to work and showed the doctor’s report to a supervisor he was ordered to immediately undergo a drug test, which came back negative.

Upon his return to work after three days, he as told he wasn’t going to be given any work and was ordered to produce the cable box that had malfunctioned. He complied and asked to amend an incident report to add more details. While filling out the report, Schuster claims he was intimidated by a supervisor who directed him to “hurry up” and acted in a menacing manner.

Schuster then was ordered to produce another medical report that would say he could return to work without restriction, according to the complaint. Again, he complied and returned to work with a note saying that he was cleared to work without restriction. 

Schuster expressed concern about the faulty cable box to supervisors and concern that safety issues would arise in the future. He also shared that other technicians had expressed concern about the devices. When asked what specifically had gone wrong, he was told he would be informed of the cause of the malfunction when it was discovered. 

Schuster then filed a workplace hazard complaint against Charter with OSHA and an investigation was begun. Charter responded to OSHA, in January 2017, that the defective model of the cable box at issue had a circuit board that shorted out, causing the fuse to blow, according to the complaint. 

Schuster claims to have continued to inquire of Charter as to why that particular model of cable box was defective, but received no response until May 2017. Despite Charter’s reassurance that they would inform him as soon as they knew, they continued to send him out on installation jobs using the faulty device. 

On one such job, Schuster had to deal with that particular model, and, while doing so, began to experience chest tightening and elevated blood pressure. He was told by an emergency room psychiatrist that “he had experienced a panic attack while attempting to troubleshoot the cable box without knowing why it malfunctioned and that he had experienced similar symptoms of panic and anxiety on previous jobs where he had encountered that model of cable box.”

Charter then placed Schuster on medical leave of absence, due, he claims, to his reluctance to perform installations using the defective devices. He received no pay after March 2017. He claims these actions amount to subjecting him to a hostile work environment, failing to provide him with reasonable accommodation, and termination of his employment.

The case was brought by The Harman Firm of New York city in the Southern District of New York.

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