Decision-maker’s Lack of Knowledge about TV Director’s Heart Condition Curbs ADA Claim

Frank Ferreri

Columbus, GA ( – While a reduction in hours that comes after an employee informs his employer that he has a medical condition could raise flags under the Americans with Disabilities Act, more than just timing might be required.

For example, in Sledge v. Nexstar Broadcasting Inc., No. 4:20-CV-170 (CDL), although a technical director reported having a heart problem to his TV station employer, the decision-maker who cut the director’s hours didn’t know about it, and so didn’t discriminate against the employee on the basis of disability by reducing his schedule.

Hospitalization, Cut Hours

The director was scheduled for seven-hour shifts from 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. until 11:30 p.m., five days a week. The director ran the teleprompter for the 5 p.m. news broadcast, and he directed the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. broadcasts.

The director accepted a job as a full-time teacher and received approval for this employment under the station’s “other employment” policy, which required that the second job not conflict with the job at the station.

About two years later, the director was hospitalized for atrial fibrillation. While in the hospital, he told his supervisor and a human resources officer at the station that he was in the hospital for “heart issues.” The director was released to return to work without limitations.

Following a realignment in management, the station decided to change the director’s job to a part-time position due to downtime between the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts and because the director’s teaching job impacted his “availability to work and his dependability.”

After this change, the station started scheduling the director to begin work at 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. so he could consistently work on the 5 p.m. newscast. The director was not on time for this shift and was also late for several 11 p.m. newscasts and missed at least one 11 p.m. newscast in its entirety. Due to these issues, the station reduced the director’s hours again.

In March of 2020, the director stopped reporting to work because of the COVID-19 pandemic and has not been back to work since. The director’s supervisor told him to stay safe and not worry about rushing back to work. The station did not terminate the director.

‘On the Basis Of’

Nonetheless, the director sued under the American’s with Disabilities Act, claiming that his hours were cut based on his heart condition.

Under the ADA, an employee must prove that he was discriminated against on the basis of disability.

In this case, the court determined that the director did not make that showing. The court explained that the supervisor was not aware the director had a medical condition at the time he reduced the director’s hours.

“[The director] did not point to any evidence to create a genuine fact dispute on this point, and he did not point to any evidence that someone with knowledge of his heart condition was the true decision-maker,” the court reasoned.

As a result, the court granted the station’s motion for summary judgment, bringing the director’s legal challenge to a close.