Worker: Forced break is unfair

The postal worker skips lunch to manage pain. He's suing his bosses.

Published March 23, 2007

TAMPA - Kenneth M. Fox has really bad arthritis.

It's so bad, he said, he suffers from almost intolerable pain if he doesn't keep moving. So every day he skips his lunch break at the U.S. Postal Service's Tampa Airport plant and continues working.

For years, Fox said his supervisors accommodated him. But now he said he is being forced to take a lunch break and he's not happy about it. Fox filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, accusing his supervisors of discrimination.

Fox, 55, a Safety Harbor resident, did not return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday.

Gary Sawtelle, the Postal Service's Tampa spokesman, said he could not comment on pending litigation.

It's unclear whether Fox routinely left work early or was compensated for the extra time.

According to the suit, Fox is a military veteran who served in a special operations unit. His physically arduous career led to a severe and painful degenerative arthritic condition, the suit said.

Fox began working for the Postal Service as an automation clerk in May 1997 after retiring from the military. Meanwhile, his arthritis grew worse.

"Fox's condition is such that the pain, discomfort and muscular problems in general that he experiences is tolerable during his work hours if he is able to stay mobile or essentially continue working during his shift," the lawsuit said.

If Fox is forced to stand still, "his muscles begin to freeze up and his arthritic condition becomes extremely painful," the suit said.

According to the lawsuit, his supervisors recently decided a lunch break was mandatory for all employees, including Fox.

When he complained, Fox said he was subjected to "hostile and disparate treatment." He did not elaborate.

In the suit, he accused the Postal Service of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not making a reasonable accommodation for his condition.

"Fox's request for an accommodation would pose no undue burden upon the Tampa plant," the suit said. "In fact, other postal facilities permit employees to choose whether or not to utilize the offered lunch break."

Fox is asking a judge to order the postal service to allow him to continue working during lunch breaks, pay his attorneys fees and award him damages.

Carrie Weimar can be reached at (813) 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com.