Share This Page

Jury awards former U.S. Steel employee $5.5M in disability discrimination lawsuit

| Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, 11:54 a.m.

U.S. Steel must pay a former longtime employee more than $5.5 million for firing him because of his arthritic knee, a federal jury decided Tuesday.

Albert Gucker, 64, of North Strabane worked for the steelmaker for more than 30 years and was a heavy equipment mechanical repairman at its Irvin Works in 2011 when a new supervisor fired him, the lawsuit said.

“I was shocked, surprised and dismayed over the whole situation because I enjoyed my job,” Gucker said in a statement provided by his lawyer. “I didn't do anything wrong. I just couldn't understand it.”

Company spokeswoman Sarah Cassella declined comment.

Arthritis limited Gucker to lifting no more than 30 pounds, and the company accommodated that limitation for about eight years, said his lawyer, Paul Tershel.

“He had these lifting restrictions for eight to 10 years without complaint, and the new supervisor sent him home that very day he learned of the restrictions,” he said.

Instead of correcting the supervisor's error, the company tried to change Gucker's job description and send him to a physical exam to prove he couldn't do the job, Tershel said. The exam was “designed to eliminate him, not to give him a fair shake,” he said.

An eight-person jury decided Feb. 11 that the company discriminated against Gucker and, on Tuesday, awarded him $550,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.

After the first verdict, Gucker said he was relieved and “grateful for the jury's faith in me.”

U.S. Steel filed a post-verdict motion asking U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer to reduce the damage award to $300,000, based on damage limits in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

While federal law has that limit, the state discrimination law doesn't, Tershel said. Gucker sued under both laws, and Tershel said he plans to file a motion arguing that Fischer shouldn't reduce the damages.

Whether Fischer will reduce the verdict depends on a lot of factors, including the evidence of the company's conduct and state case law on compensatory and punitive damage awards, said Mark Weber, a DePaul University law professor who studies disability discrimination law.

“I would think this would be very difficult to predict,” Weber said, though he added a $5.55 million verdict “would be on the high side.”

Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.