The case was not resolved and there was a jury trial. After the employee put on all his evidence, the employer moved for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that the employee had failed to put on any evidence (1) that twelve-hour shifts were not an “essential function” of his job, and (2) that the accommodation he requested was reasonable.
The district court took the employer’s motion under advisement and let the case go to the jury. The jury found the employer liable for violating the ADA and awarded the employee $142,268.00 for “lost wages and benefits” and $108,810.00 for “mental and emotional anguish.” The court then denied the employer’s outstanding motion for judgment as a matter of law. The employer appealed this ruling and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (controlling in Florida), which ruled against the employer.
An employee worked for years under an eight hour shift. When the Florida employer changed the standard working shifts from eight hours per day to twelve, the employee began experiencing high blood pressure symptoms. After the employee’s doctor identified the twelve-hour shifts as the culprit, the employee requested to work shorter shifts. The employer refused, and the employee retired. The employee then found a lawyer and sued the employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), claiming that it effectively forced him into retirement by refusing to provide him with a reasonable disability accommodation.
The Florida employer introduced testimony of various witnesses in which those officials explained the importance of working twelve-hour shifts. Although this might amount to some evidence that working those shifts was an essential job function, the Appellate Court explained that a reasonable jury could have looked to the Position Description form and decided that the form’s plain labeling outweighed any other evidence presented.
Also, focusing on that job description, the employee offered a letter from his cardiologist as evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude he could perform his job functions. The employee testified at trial that he was able to perform each and every job duty listed as either “essential” or “marginal” on his job description. Also, the letter from the cardiologist stated that after reviewing the job description for the job, the cardiologist believed the employee was capable of performing the “listed job duties” but should be restricted to working daytime hours and 8-hour shifts.
The Appellate Court determined that this was enough evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude he could have performed all essential job functions even with his requested accommodation, and that his accommodation request was reasonable. Snead v. Fla. Agric. & Mech. Univ. Bd. of Trs., No. 17-10338, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 4350 (11th Cir. Feb. 21, 2018).
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In general, an employer violates the ADA if it fails to make reasonable accommodation for an otherwise qualified disabled employee. To establish a failure to accommodate, the employee must demonstrate that (1) he has a disability, (2) he is a “qualified individual,” which is to say, able to perform the essential functions of the employment position that he holds or seeks with or without reasonable accommodation, and (3) the employer unlawfully discriminated against him because of the disability.
The ADA defines a “qualified individual” as someone with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position.
The Court of Appeals held that the employee provided evidence of the job’s essential duties by showing that the employer’s “Position Description” for his position specified a number of “essential” job functions but did not include shift length among them. The Appellate Court determined that the jury could have reasonably concluded that the essential functions of the employee’s job were those functions—and only those functions—listed as “essential” on the job description.
How an employer lost a discrimination case because of language on a job description.