By: Joe Hunt
An employee was unable to return to work full time because she was experiencing postpartum depression. She worked half time instead and, according to the employee, she was still able to do everything that was required of her position as a Human Resources Generalist. When the employee requested to extend her half time schedule for the foreseeable future, her employer terminated her employment because the reduced schedule overwhelmed other employees and caused the department to function poorly.
The crux of this lawsuit under the ADA was whether the employee was “qualified for her position.” The trial court decided the employee was not qualified because she could not perform the essential function of her job with or without accommodation. It granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment on all the claims. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reversed and held that the employee had presented sufficient evidence to preclude summary judgment when she and another employee testified she could do all her work on the reduced schedule.
This appellate decision punched a hole in the argument that an employer gets to determine the essential functions of its jobs. Instead of taking the employer’s word (as expressed in job descriptions and by management) for job duties, the court ruled that employers must tie time-and-presence requirements to other job requirements and explain why an employee cannot complete essential functions unless he or she is present 40 hours a week.
The case is Hostettler v. The College of Wooster, No. 17-3406 (6th Cir. July 17, 2018).