By: Jessica Jackler
In Tonyan v. Dunham’s Athleisure Corp., No. 19-2939 (July 20, 2020), the Seventh Circuit affirmed a summary judgment ruling in favor of the employer in an ADA failure to accommodate case.
The employee sued her employer because she was terminated shortly after she provided her employer with a doctor’s note indicating that she was permanently restricted from lifting objects more than two pounds with her right arm and could not reach forward or upward more than 5% above her shoulder. The employer terminated her because these restrictions prevented her ability to perform her essential job functions with or without a reasonable accommodation.
The court found that the employee’s essential job functions included assisting customers in retrieving merchandise above the employee’s shoulders; these physical tasks took between 20-30% of her time. The court found that the employee’s inability to perform these physical tasks required the employer to expand its budget to account for additional labor needed to accommodate the employee’s inability to move merchandise. The court also noted that that the fact that the employee could direct others to perform these tasks did not render said tasks non-essential to her position. The court agreed that the employer could properly look to the employee’s restrictions to determine that she was incapable of performing the essential functions of her job. Accordingly, the court agreed that the employer did not violate the ADA when it terminated her employment because she could not perform her essential job functions.
Practice Tip: This decision emphasizes the importance of having detailed job descriptions to determine whether employees are able to perform their essential job functions with or without accommodations. When employers are able to point to specific job functions that are essential and cannot be performed, it can later help successfully defend a failure to accommodate claim.