After an employee was terminated from her job as a groundskeeper at a community recreational park, she sued her employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Based primarily on the job duties listed in the employer’s written job description, a federal court agreed that the employee was not able to perform the essential duties of her job and dismissed her disability discrimination claim.
The employee had suffered a severe leg injury that left her unable to walk or stand more than one-third of the work day, and made it difficult for her to balance on uneven surfaces. The employer determined she could not safely perform the essential duties of her job given her medical restrictions, and terminated her employment.
Qualified to perform the essential functions of a job?
The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against a “qualified individual” with a disability because of that disability. An employee claiming discrimination must show that an accommodation exists that would allow her to perform the essential functions of her job. If the employee is unable to perform an essential function, even with a reasonable accommodation, then she is not a “qualified individual.”
The court determines the specific job duties that are “essential functions,” but gives substantial weight to the employer’s judgment. In this case, the court found that all of the duties listed in the written job description were essential functions. Since the court determined that she couldn’t perform some of those duties even when taking into account her proposed accommodations, she was not considered a “qualified individual,” and her case was properly dismissed (Bagwell v. Morgan County Commission, 11th Cir, Jan. 2017).
Tips for Employers:
After unsuccessfully seeking an accommodation for her groundskeeper position, the employee didn’t identify any other positions that she could have performed. As a general rule, employers’ reasonable accommodation analyses shouldn’t end with the employee’s existing job. You should also evaluate other open positions for which the employee is qualified. For any jobs that you analyze, a comprehensive job description is essential evidence for your defense against many employment-related legal claims. It’s also valuable in making sure everyone is on the same page about the job duties, essential functions, and expectations.
Vigilant members have free access to JobDescription.com – a great tool for creating job descriptions – through our members-only website. Our Legal Guide, “Job Descriptions,” is also a useful resource. For any additional questions you may have about the ADA, essential job functions, or any hiring or employment-related topic, contact your Vigilant employment attorney for guidance.
If you are not a Vigilant member, and would like access to our online resources and employer counsel, inquire about our membership options. You can fill out this form or call us directly for additional information (1-800-733-8621).