ADA Suit Filed Against Sanderson Farms

On Nov. 13, Libia Rojo filed an employment discrimination action in the Southern District of Texas against defendant Sanderson Farms, Inc. (Processing Division) for alleged violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The complaint charges Sanderson with failing to reasonably accommodate Rojo after she sustained an injury on the job that limited her mobility.

The filing explains that Rojo worked for Sanderson, a Texas-organized corporation, at its Bryan, Texas, poultry processing plant since about 2000. Rojo, a 48-year old woman, reportedly had a number of different assignments, “handling various aspects of processing and packaging chicken parts for shipment and sale.” She also had a good work history, the complaint purports.

According to the filing, in August 2018, Rojo was working on the production line, which required pushing and pulling boxes weighing up to about 75 pounds. She sustained an injury, experiencing a “pop” in right shoulder followed by severe pain. Reportedly, doctors diagnosed her with “torn or damaged rotator cuffs in both shoulders, three torn tendons, and a fractured clavicle.” Thereafter, Rojo’s doctors allegedly advised her doctors to limit right arm movements and use, the complaint avers.

From August until early October 2018, Sanderson reportedly told Rojo that it was investigating her eligibility for benefits under its workplace injury compensation plan. During these months, Rojo was assigned to jobs that accommodated her physical limitations, like labelling chicken trays and gluing boxes in different departments, the filing explains.

Allegedly, in early October 2018, Sanderson denied Rojo’s workplace injury claim. The complaint describes how, in the ensuing months, Rojo engaged with Sanderson to find work able to accommodate her restrictions, but Sanderson frustrated her efforts. For example, a supervisor “told Ms. Rojo words to the effect of, ‘you cannot work at Sanderson with restrictions’ and that Sanderson had only been accommodating her restrictions up until that time because she had a pending workplace injury claim,” the complaint alleges.

Reportedly, Rojo was offered the choice between unpaid leave and termination, and took the former. The plaintiff claims that she underwent rotator cuff repair surgery in February 2019 and recovered until mid-May 2019. At that point, she allegedly sought work from Sanderson with doctor-provided restrictions including lifting and overhead lifting limitations.

However, the complaint explains, Rojo’s efforts largely failed. Allegedly, in July 2019, she tried a job hanging and defeathering chickens, but the expected rate, 35 birds per minute, caused Rojo pain. The plaintiff claims she voiced her concerns to Sanderson after her arm and hand swelled, and was advised to return a note from her doctor with updated restrictions, which she did.

Rojo filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint in July 2019. Since Aug.7, 2019, the filing states, “Sanderson has refused to allow Ms. Rojo to return to work at all, and has refused to otherwise engage in the interactive process, despite Ms. Rojo continually expressing her availability to work in numerous assignments that would have accommodated her limitations in performing heavy lifting.”

After exhausting her administrative remedies, Rojo filed the instant suit alleging a single cause of action, disability discrimination, and failure to accommodate under the ADA. The filing states that “[a]s a result of Sanderson’s unlawful employment practices, Ms. Rojo’s pay and hours worked were reduced to zero in July 2019, and Sanderson has classified her as on leave without pay since that time.”

The plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, back and front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, nominal damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, and her litigation costs.

The plaintiff is represented by the Equal Justice Center.