A Murray man who hurt his back on the job is suing his former employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Robert Merrell filed suit in federal court Tuesday, saying that the company, ICEE-USA Corp., had violated his civil rights under the ADA. The company makes machinery and supplies that produce frozen beverages.Merrell drove an ICEE truck as a route delivery and service person who installed, serviced and removed ICEE machines and supplies. He began working for the company in 1985.
In March 1993, Merrell hurt his back while lifting the back door on his delivery truck, according to the suit. He reported the accident to his employer but made no claim for workers compensation and did not miss work because of the injury. Over time, his back grew continuously worse, the document said.
The lawsuit said Merrell asked for various accommodations from ICEE for his back, such as asking to take earned vacation or sick days for pain control.
Merrell again reported his injury to his immediate employer in July 1996, but the supervisor did not sign or file the accident report with company headquarters until Aug. 2, 1996, the suit said.
That summer, Merrell had 157 accounts to manage in Utah, Wyoming and Idaho that included major theme parks such as Lagoon, Raging Waters and Liberty Park as well as expanding ICEE's national accounts in the area.
Merrell resigned in June 1997 because the company made no accommodations for his back injury, the suit said. It said that Merrell was deprived of equal employment opportunities and was subjected to retribution on the job.
The suit asks that Merrell be compensated for lost wages and benefits, punitive damages, attorney's fees and other costs.
John Preston Creer, Merrell's attorney, said he doesn't see this as an unusual interpretation of the ADA.
"The issues vary so widely," Creer said, adding that the U.S. Supreme Court currently is reviewing whether an employer must make accommodations for a worker with AIDS. "There are many, many lawsuits all over the country and the courts are sort of defining what it all means."
Creer said one key point in Merrell's case was that the company did not make any reasonable attempt to help Merrell keep doing his job, which the Americans with Disabilities Act requires.
"The courts don't require you to reinvent the wheel or do something dramatic. They just say, `Try and see if there's a reasonable way to do something about it,' " he said.
"He (Merrell) had asked for specific types of accommodations and they had denied him that. They said, `You do it like you did before or you're out of here,' in a sense, although it wasn't that simple," Creer said.
Specifically, Merrell had asked for someone to help occasionally with lifting heavy equipment since he cannot lift items weighing over 40 pounds because of his bad back, but Creer said the company refused. "It was not a daily thing. It would come up in the course of work."
Creer said it was "a huge thing" for Merrell to leave the job because he had been there so long. "I don't know why the company wouldn't do something about it for him so he could continue."
ICEE-USA officials at the firm's Ontario, Calif., headquarters declined comment.