Employer that provided disabled employee with four accommodations still forced to litigate discrimination case
The court noted that physical presence is not invariably an essential function but, rather, requires a fact-intensive inquiry. The court explained that the essential functions of her position included conducting safety surveys and inspections at facilities such as various office buildings. According to the employer, the need to conduct these inspections, means that the position is not sedentary and, instead, requires moderate physical exertion, including walking, standing, bending, climbing and carrying many items of equipment used in sampling. In order to support this characterization, the employer offered written job descriptions which listed those physical demands. However the employee disputed this and relied on the deposition testimony of another employee who was in the same position, who testified that activities requiring mild to moderate physical exertion, such as “carrying equipment” or “collecting samples,” was “an exceptional thing.” The court concluded that the position description - and, more importantly, the co-worker’s testimony - showed that field inspections and surveys were, at most, “marginal” functions of the position.
Therefore, in response to the employer’s Motion for Summary Judgment, the court rejected the employer’s arguments on the issue of whether moderate physical exertion, including walking, standing, bending, climbing and carrying equipment used in sampling, was, in fact, an essential function of the position. Because the employee was able to provide a conflicting account, this created a genuine dispute of material fact, which means that the employer did not win on this portion of its Motion and this matter was required to be determined by the jury. Kirkland v. McAleenan, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 219866, 2019 WL 7067046 (D.D.C. December 23, 2019).
This case is useful to provide guidance to Florida employers because it demonstrates the manner that court look at disability-related cases. Just because an employer may provide several accommodations to an employee does not mean that it can become fed-up with requests for accommodations. Employers are required to perform an individualized assessment for each accommodation request.
This case demonstrates how it can be crucial to have an experienced employment discrimination lawyer guide your Florida business through disability-related requests so that you do not get sued for disability discrimination.
If you need any assistance in addressing disability accommodation requests or handling an EEOC charge of discrimination concerning your Florida business or if you need guidance in any employment policies, please email the Law Office of David Miklas, P.A. or call us at 1-772-465-5111.
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An employee fractured her arm in a non-work-related accident and, based on that injury, requested approval to telecommute. While being treated for that injury, her doctor advised her that she also suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome. The following month the employee provided her employer with a treatment form from her physician, stating that she had carpal tunnel syndrome and recommended that the employer provide her with voice-activated software and an ergonomically correct workstation. The form indicated that the employee’s injury was work-related and recommended that she be allowed to work from home for a few weeks.
The employee sued the employer in federal court for various things, including failure to accommodate her degenerative joint disease, degenerative osteoarthritis, and plantar fasciitis; (2) her carpal tunnel syndrome; and (3) her fractured right humerus.
The employer did not dispute that under the law the employee was disabled and that it had notice of her disability. Rather, the employer argued that the employee was so severely disabled that she could not perform the “essential functions” of her position, even with reasonable accommodation.
The employer allowed her to telework and also provided her with voice-activated software, an ergonomic chair and a modifiable workstation. A couple months later the employer informed the employee that it had decided to reassign her from her current position to an identical position at another location 600 miles (9 hour drive) away. She accepted the reassignment but never reported to that new location. Instead, she reviewed her options for commuting to work at the new jobsite (600 miles away), but discovered that the closest bus stop was located across a busy highway and almost a mile from the office. As a result, the employee believed that the office was inaccessible to those who, like her, have difficulty walking. She produced a letter from her doctor that confirmed that she was suffering from a progressively degenerative arthritis and plantar fasciitis and other conditions, which prevented her from walking more than 100 yards. Therefore, she requested that, as another accommodation, she be allowed to perform her job at her same jobsite, or, in the alternative, that she be allowed to work a full-time telework schedule.
The employer became fed up and rather than grant either request, the employer determined that the employee’s claimed disability precluded her from performing the essential functions of her position—with or without reasonable accommodations, from any workstation. The employer placed the employee on unpaid leave for several months.
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