7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Case Name: Karen Hirlston v. Costco Wholesale Corporation
Case No.: 22-2067
Officials: Hamilton, Brennan, and Jackson-Akiwumi, Circuit Judges.
Focus: Americans with Disabilities Act
Hirlston held the position of Optical Manager at a Costco store for several years, despite having lifelong disabilities that made bending, walking, and standing difficult for her. In 2015, Costco decided to renovate the optical department in a way that would pose challenges for Hirlston to continue in her role. Discussions about accommodations, including those recommended by Hirlston’s doctor, took place. Costco ultimately determined that no accommodations would enable Hirlston to continue as Optical Manager, citing her failure to perform essential job functions and non-compliance with her doctor’s restrictions. They also believed she had been delegating tasks that were crucial to her role. Consequently, Costco placed Hirlston on involuntary leave and later assigned her to a lower-paying job.
In response to these actions, Hirlston filed a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), alleging disability discrimination and retaliation (42 U.S.C. 12111(8), 12112, 12203(a)). A jury’s verdict concluded that Hirlston did not meet the qualifications for the Optical Manager position, a decision upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court. The use of a special verdict form was found to be without error. Hirlston’s challenge to jury instructions was considered forfeited due to her failure to timely object. Although a key instruction contained an error, it was deemed not to have significantly harmed Hirlston’s case to warrant a new trial. Furthermore, the judge’s decision to allow the introduction of workplace photographs not disclosed during discovery was not deemed an abuse of discretion.