Former maintenance worker sues Kennewick Irrigation District

Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldJune 8, 2014 

Kennewick Irrigation District is being sued by a former maintenance worker who claims KID officials discriminated against him and wrongfully terminated him because of a disabling injury.

KID officials say Ismael Rocha couldn't be reasonably accommodated in a way that would allow him to do his job, according to court documents.

Rocha filed a lawsuit against KID in Benton County Superior Court in February. A previous claim filed with the district in December 2011 asked for more than $1 million in back pay and damages.

A jury trial has been asked for by both sides, and is tentatively scheduled for February 2015.

Rocha claims the discrimination began after he filed an application to reopen an industrial injury claim in 2009, the lawsuit said. His injury, which was not specified, apparently had occurred while he was on the job in 1997.

KID refused to accommodate him and placed him on unpaid administrative leave in June 2010 and then terminated his employment in November 2011, the lawsuit said.

KID officials counter that the restrictions given by Rocha's doctor were so vague they couldn't determine if Rocha could do the vital tasks required for employees in his position, documents said. When Rocha and his doctor didn't clarify the restrictions, he was placed on unpaid administrative leave.

Permanent modifications approved by Rocha's physician included lifting no more than 50 pounds and bending and turning only occasionally, KID wrote in court documents.

Rocha was told depending on where he was, it would take someone up to an hour to come and help him lift something, which would be too slow for public safety when it comes to clearing canal obstructions, KID wrote.

He also was told that it wasn't reasonable for KID to assign an employee to assist him with tasks he wasn't supposed to do, which included driving trucks and operating equipment, according to court documents.

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-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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