U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

ADA Judgment Affirmed Against City

Biagio Stragapede was a city water-worker in Evanston, IL until one day when he tripped on some steps.

It was not serious, but the city placed him on leave and later terminated him because it said he was a safety threat. He had other problems, too, like driving through an intersection without looking and reporting to the wrong job sites.

But the real problem was that Stragapede had recently returned to work from a serious brain injury, and the city didn't think he could do his job. A jury rejected the city's rationale, and so did the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Stragapede v. City of Evanston.

A Few Missteps

The case was well publicized locally because it was the first time Chicago's federal judges allowed cameras in the courtroom for a trial. It was part of a national pilot program.

Stragapede had performed city water services since 1996, including finding leaks, testing water pressure, and replacing water meters. But he had an accident at home in 2009 that left him with traumatic brain injuries, so he went on leave until he completed rehabilitation.

The day after he returned to work, co-workers started noticing problems. One employee observed Stragapede driving through an intersection while looking down at his lap.

Over the next two weeks, Stragepede had more missteps: he literally tripped over some steps, and he showed up at the wrong locations for two jobs. The city placed him on leave while he reported to a doctor for evaluation.

No Safety Threat

Based on the conclusion that Stragepede posed a threat of danger in the workplace, the city terminated him. Finding the city had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the trial court awarded Stragapede $354,070 in damages and the city appealed.

Deferring to the jury's findings, the appeals court said it was their conclusion that Stragepede was not a safety threat. He had testified the intersection incident occurred because he was reaching to grab a clipboard that had fallen off the seat.

"He noted, moreover, that the light was green and no pedestrians were present," the appeals court observed in affirming the judgment. "Reasonable jurors could accept this explanation and reject the City's argument that the incident supports an inference that Stragapede was a safety threat."

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