By Julia Wong
HALIFAX – An Enfield man claims IBM discriminated against him because of his physical disability.
Roger Lefrense, 56, had been working for IBM as an IT technician since 1996.
He testified before a Human Rights Commission inquiry Monday.
Lefrense said that he woke up with dizziness and headaches in September 2003. A family doctor referred him to a neurologist who believed Lefrense had sleep apnea but further study was needed.
Sleep apnea is a condition where there are pauses while breathing, which can disrupt sleep.
Lefrense’s job required him to sometimes work overtime, weekends or on-call.
He testified he had concerns about the additional hours of work because he was not sleeping.
He was particularly worried about the impact his sleep apnea might have on driving long-distances since he often had to respond to calls from Yarmouth to Truro.
Lefrense approached his supervisor in May 2004 that he was not sleeping well and was not in a condition to work on-call.
However, he said his supervisor told him that being on-call was part of the position and if he could not perform his duties, he may have to look for work somewhere else.
He testified his supervisor told him he would find a replacement for that shift but not to expect that to become the norm.
Lefrense said he was under the impression that he was being brushed aside even though he was advising his supervisor of a hazard to his health.
He provided the supervisor with a medical note, was put on sick leave in June 2004 and was estimated to return to work July 2004.
However, Lefrense injured his lower back prior to that date and required surgery. He was off work for a couple months.
In April 2005, a doctor gave him the green light to return to work however a treatment option for his sleep apnea called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, CPAP, did not prove successful.
Oral surgery for his sleep apnea was considered but he was ultimately referred to a sleep clinic, which had at least a one-and-a-half year waiting list.
It was during this time that a doctor recommended Lefrense not work overtime or a night shift so his sleep apnea would not be aggravated and specialists could find a way to manage his condition.
Lefrense had worries he might be a safety risk if he had to drive, and he reached out to his supervisor but said his request for accommodation was rejected.
He said that he was never told the reason why.
In emails read aloud during the inquiry, a supervisor wrote to Lefrense that “The job is a job. We’re unable to customize the job to your medical condition”.
Lefrense was then offered another job, a senior parts analyst position, which he started in June 2006. The new position was Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and there was limited overtime and he would not be on-call.
However he took a significant pay cut.
He testified that no other positions were discussed with him but he believes there were other jobs with higher pay that he was qualified for.
“The question becomes whether the new skills, the new position he was placed in, whether the pay range was appropriate or whether there were other positions he could have landed in to accommodate his new disabled status,” said Lisa Teryl, legal counsel for the Human Rights Commission.
Teryl said many employers often grapple with how to accommodate for their employees.
“This board of inquiry has been struck to establish where the duty to accommodate line should be draw. At some point, the employer doesn’t have to accommodate the employee if it reaches the point of undue hardship,” Teryl said.
Lefrense is asking for past and future wage losses as well as future losses to his pension because he is now at a lower pay rate.
IBM declined to comment.
Cross examination is expected to take place Tuesday.
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