Skaggs v. Elk Run Coal Co., Inc., No. 23178

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtCLECKLEY; McHUGH
Citation198 W.Va. 51,479 S.E.2d 561
Parties, 6 A.D. Cases 965, 8 NDLR P 204 Alfred M. SKAGGS, Plaintiff Below, Appellant, v. ELK RUN COAL COMPANY, INC., a West Virginia Corporation, Defendant Below, Appellee.
Decision Date11 July 1996
Docket NumberNo. 23178

Page 561

479 S.E.2d 561
198 W.Va. 51, 6 A.D. Cases 965, 8 NDLR P 204
Alfred M. SKAGGS, Plaintiff Below, Appellant,
v.
ELK RUN COAL COMPANY, INC., a West Virginia Corporation,
Defendant Below, Appellee.
No. 23178.
Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
Submitted April 30, 1996.
Decided July 11, 1996.

Page 568

[198 W.Va. 58] Syllabus by the Court

1. Under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W. Va.Code, 5-11-9 (1992), reasonable accommodation means reasonable modifications or adjustments to be determined on a case-by-case basis which are designed as attempts to enable an individual with a disability to be hired or to remain in the position for which he or she was hired. The Human Rights Act does not necessarily require an employer to offer the precise accommodation an employee requests, at least so long as the employer offers some other accommodation that permits the employee to fully perform the job's essential functions.

2. To state a claim for breach of the duty of reasonable accommodation under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W. Va.Code, 5-11-9 (1992), a plaintiff must alleged the following elements: (1) The plaintiff is a qualified person with a disability; (2) the employer was aware of the plaintiff's disability; (3) the plaintiff required an accommodation in order to perform the essential functions of a job; (4) a reasonable accommodation existed that met the plaintiff's needs; (5) the employer knew or should have known of the plaintiff's need and of the accommodation; and (6) the employer failed to provide the accommodation.

Page 569

[198 W.Va. 59] 3. Under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W.Va.Code, 5-11-9 (1992), in a disparate treatment discrimination case involving an employee with a disability, an employer may defend against a claim of reasonable accommodation by disputing any of the essential elements of the employee's claim or by proving that making the accommodation imposes an undue hardship on the employer. Undue hardship is an affirmative defense, upon which the employer bears the burden of persuasion.

4. Under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W. Va.Code, 5-11-9 (1992), once an employee requests reasonable accommodation, an employer must assess the extent of an employee's disability and how it can be accommodated. If the employee cannot be accommodated in his or her current position, however it is restructured, then the employer must inform the employee of potential job opportunities within the company and, if requested, consider transferring the employee to fill the open position. To the extent that Coffman v. West Virginia Board of Regents, 182 W.Va. 73, 386 S.E.2d 1 (1988), is inconsistent with the foregoing, it is expressly overruled.

5. In disparate treatment cases under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W. Va.Code, 5-11-9 (1992), proof of pretext can by itself sustain a conclusion that the defendant engaged in unlawful discrimination. Therefore, if the plaintiff raised an inference of discrimination through his or her prima facie case and the fact-finder disbelieves the defendant's explanation for the adverse action taken against the plaintiff, the factfinder justifiably may conclude that the logical explanation for the action was the unlawful discrimination.

6. In disparate treatment discrimination cases under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W. Va.Code, 5-11-9 (1992), a plaintiff proves a claim for unlawful discrimination if he or she proves by a preponderance of the evidence that a forbidden intent was a motivating factor in an adverse employment action. Liability will then be imposed on a defendant unless it proves by a preponderance of the evidence that the same result would have occurred even in the absence of the unlawful motive.

7. In disparate treatment discrimination cases under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W. Va.Code, 5-11-9 (1992), a plaintiff can create a triable issue of discrimination animus through direct or circumstantial evidence. Thus, a plaintiff who can offer sufficient circumstantial evidence on intentional discrimination may prevail, just as in any other civil case where the plaintiff meets his or her burden of proof. The question should not be whether the evidence was circumstantial or direct, but whether the evidence in its entirety was strong enough to meet the plaintiff's burden of proof.

8. In instructing the jury in civil rights cases, a trial court should bear in mind that the jury's role is the recreation of what happened and should strive to charge it in ways that are meaningful and lucid. In disparate treatment cases under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W. Va.Code, 5-11-9 (1992), the charge should inform the jury that the plaintiff bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the alleged forbidden bias was a motivating factor in the defendant's decision to take an adverse employment action against the plaintiff. If the plaintiff carries that burden, then the jury should find for the plaintiff unless the defendant can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have taken the same action in the absence of the impermissible motive. In making its determination on both intent and causation, the jury should take into account any inferences created by the plaintiff's membership in the protected class, his or her qualifications, the defendant's explanation, the believability of that explanation, and all other relevant evidence bearing on the issues.

Debra Kilgore, Burton & Kilgore, Princeton, for Appellant.

Daniel L. Stickler, Gregory S. Metzger, Jackson & Kelly, Charleston, for Appellee.

CLECKLEY, Justice:

The appellant herein and plaintiff below, Alfred M. Skaggs, appeals the Circuit Court

Page 570

[198 W.Va. 60] of Raleigh County's denial of the plaintiff's motion to set aside the verdict in the jury trial and to grant a new trial. On appeal, the plaintiff raises several issues regarding evidentiary and instructional errors committed by the trial court. For reasons detailed below, we find the trial court's instruction contained reversible error and we order a new trial.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The plaintiff was hired by the appellee herein and the defendant below, Elk Run Coal Company, on January 4, 1982, as a mine safety and health administrator. The plaintiff has a Bachelor of Science Degree in forestry and a Master's Degree in safety management and previously worked as a safety and training specialist at the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The plaintiff testified that he not only listed that he was a disabled veteran on the employment application but that he discussed his injuries during the job interview and informed the interview committee that he had a 10 percent disability and that his doctor had ordered certain restrictions on his physical activities. 1 These restrictions included limitations on sitting and standing for long periods and lifting objects weighing over twenty-five pounds. However, the defendant asserts that during this interview the plaintiff made reference to only a minor disability. Apparently, because they were looking for someone to perform administrative duties as opposed to physical labor, the committee discussed the plaintiff's disability and decided to hire him, despite his physical problems. Thereafter, the plaintiff worked in the job of mine safety and health administrator for approximately five and one-half years. This job consisted of being a qualified instructor in many required classes for coal miners and completing paperwork for various purposes, including mine accidents, violations, and coordination with state and federal agencies.

The plaintiff's job changed in July of 1985. Larry Ward, who was a member of the interview committee when the plaintiff was hired, became the vice-president and general manager of the defendant. After his promotion, Mr. Ward asked the plaintiff to prepare a written description of his job duties. According to the plaintiff, Mr. Ward's evaluation did not take into account 50 percent of the plaintiff's job duties. Following the assessment, Mr. Ward reassigned the plaintiff to work in the laboratory four hours a day. The defendant denies that it eliminated duties and contends instead that the plaintiff's job actually required only 50 percent of his time; thus, additional duties were assigned. As a lab assistant, the plaintiff was responsible for collecting coal samples. According to the plaintiff's brief, this job required a considerable amount of physical labor, which included walking to the various sections of the plant, retrieving coal samples that weighed approximately sixty to eighty pounds, and returning them to the plant lab. After weighing the samples, the plaintiff had to place them into the crusher, which required him to lift the bag over his head. This form of physical labor purportedly caused serious physical pain to the plaintiff. At first, he performed the work part-time; later, the plaintiff's remaining job duties were divided between two other people and he was permanently assigned as a lab assistant. The plaintiff worked in this job for approximately three months.

Subsequently, the plaintiff was reassigned as a lab technician. Although his primary duty was to analyze coal samples, the plaintiff still was required to perform some lab assistant duties such as collecting and preparing coal samples. The plaintiff asserts this job required a considerable amount of standing on concrete floors, which aggravated his condition. A stool was provided, but the plaintiff claims it was of little use because the counters contained no openings beneath them. Thus, he was unable to get his legs or knees underneath the cabinet. At trial, the plaintiff also asserted this accommodation

Page 571

[198 W.Va. 61] lasted only a few days because the scale he used had to be moved so he could use his stool. Apparently, others using the scale did not like the scale being moved because that...

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116 practice notes
  • CSX Transp., Inc. v. Smith, No. 11–0694.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 7, 2012
    ...Instruction Number 7 suggests that the challenged language was taken from Syllabus point 5 of Skaggs v. Elk Run Coal Co., Inc., 198 W.Va. 51, 479 S.E.2d 561 (1996), which directs, in relevant part, that, “[i]n disparate treatment cases ..., proof of pretext can by itself sustain a conclusio......
  • Foster v. Sakhai, No. 29339.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 12, 2001
    ...and the review is de novo." Syl. pt. 1, State v. Hinkle, 200 W.Va. 280, 489 S.E.2d 257 (1996). Accord, Skaggs v. Elk Run Coal Co., Inc., 198 W.Va. 51, 63, 479 S.E.2d 561, 573 (1996) (citation omitted). So it is our duty to determine if the charge given by the judge "sufficiently instructed ......
  • Stone v. St. Joseph's Hosp. of Parkersburg, No. 26962.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 14, 2000
    ..."protected person" definitional requirement — of being a "person with a disability." In Syllabus Point 2 of Skaggs v. Elk Run Coal Co., 198 W.Va. 51, 479 S.E.2d 561 (1996), we To state a claim for breach of the duty of reasonable accommodation under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W.Va.......
  • Hosaflook v. Consolidation Coal Co., No. 23045
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 19, 1997
    ...Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973)) (footnote added). See also Skaggs v. Elk Run Coal Co., Inc., 198 W.Va. 51, 479 S.E.2d 561 (1996). At issue is whether Hosaflook has, as a matter of law, proven all of the elements of a prima facie case of handicap A......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
117 cases
  • CSX Transp., Inc. v. Smith, No. 11–0694.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 7, 2012
    ...Instruction Number 7 suggests that the challenged language was taken from Syllabus point 5 of Skaggs v. Elk Run Coal Co., Inc., 198 W.Va. 51, 479 S.E.2d 561 (1996), which directs, in relevant part, that, “[i]n disparate treatment cases ..., proof of pretext can by itself sustain a conclusio......
  • Foster v. Sakhai, No. 29339.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 12, 2001
    ...the review is de novo." Syl. pt. 1, State v. Hinkle, 200 W.Va. 280, 489 S.E.2d 257 (1996). Accord, Skaggs v. Elk Run Coal Co., Inc., 198 W.Va. 51, 63, 479 S.E.2d 561, 573 (1996) (citation omitted). So it is our duty to determine if the charge given by the judge "sufficiently instr......
  • Stone v. St. Joseph's Hosp. of Parkersburg, No. 26962.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 14, 2000
    ...definitional requirement — of being a "person with a disability." In Syllabus Point 2 of Skaggs v. Elk Run Coal Co., 198 W.Va. 51, 479 S.E.2d 561 (1996), we To state a claim for breach of the duty of reasonable accommodation under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W.Va.Code, 5-1......
  • Hosaflook v. Consolidation Coal Co., No. 23045
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 19, 1997
    ...Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973)) (footnote added). See also Skaggs v. Elk Run Coal Co., Inc., 198 W.Va. 51, 479 S.E.2d 561 (1996). At issue is whether Hosaflook has, as a matter of law, proven all of the elements of a prima facie case of handicap A......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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