Judge_Gorsuch_official_portraitA colleague recently brought to my attention a 2014 employment case written by then-Circuit Judge Gorsuch for a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit – a particularly interesting opinion that may give us hints as to how Justice Gorsuch may rule in future employment cases before the Supreme Court.

In Hwang v. Kansas State University, an assistant professor was diagnosed with cancer and received a six-month leave of absence. (In the opinion, Judge Gorsuch specifically noted it was a “(paid) leave.” Whether or not it was paid is irrelevant to the legal analysis, but his express mention of payment suggests approval of the employer’s actions as exceeding the norm). Towards the end of the six months, she requested additional leave of apparently another few months. The University, however, had an inflexible policy limiting leave to six months, and it denied her request. The professor then sued, claiming that the University’s inflexible leave policy violated the Rehabilitation Act. Continue Reading Justice Gorsuch and the ADA?

healthFollowing up on my recent post, “Employer May Change Essential Functions of the Job,” I thought we’d discuss another little-mentioned aspect of essential job functions under the Americans with Disabilities Act – job functions that are rarely performed can still be essential!

As we’ve previously discussed, the ADA protects employees with disabilities who, with or without reasonable accommodations, are able to perform the essential functions of his/her job. The ADA regulations define “essential function” as “a fundamental job duty of a position.” But how do you determine what are the essential functions of a particular job? According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (which is the federal agency charged with enforcing the ADA) and the regulations, the following factors should be taken into account in determining whether a job function is essential: Continue Reading Rarely Performed Job Functions May Still Be “Essential” Under ADA

healthA recent case highlighted for me (and now for you) an interesting point under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – whether essential job functions can change. As you may know, the ADA protects employees with disabilities who, with or without reasonable accommodations, are able to perform the essential functions of his/her job. This means that the issue of what are the essential functions of the job is critically important.

According to the EEOC, the following factors should be taken into account in determining whether a job function is essential:

  • whether the reason the position exists is to perform that function,
  • the number of other employees available to perform the function or among whom the performance of the function can be distributed, and
  • the degree of expertise or skill required to perform the function.

The EEOC also identifies the following types of evidence that can be used to establish that certain job functions are essential:

  • the employer’s judgment as to which functions are essential,
  • a written job description prepared before advertising or interviewing for a job
  • the actual work experience of present or past employees in the job,
  • the time spent performing a function,
  • the consequences of not requiring that an employee perform a function, and
  • the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.

Continue Reading Employer May Change Essential Functions of the Job

US-EEOC-Seal.svgIn a prior blog post, “EEOC Says Sexual Orientation Is Protected Under Title VII!!,” I noted that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can be sneaky in seeking to expand the scope of the laws it enforces. It will drop bombshells in the middle of otherwise pretty innocuous guidance or resource documents, as if hoping no one notices. The latest example of this is in its just-announced (December 12, 2016) publication on the rights of job applicants and employees with mental health conditions, in which the EEOC oh-so-casually expands the reach of the American with Disabilities Act! Continue Reading EEOC Expands the ADA!

Fire Icon clip art Free VectorAs you may know, I love the quirky cases (like the Playgirl model who sued for sexual harassment). I recently came across a 2014 state case that falls into this category – the firefighter who is afraid of fire.

In City of Houston v. Proler, the captain of a firefighting crew refused to enter a burning apartment building, appearing to be frightened. He was reassigned to the training academy, but was eventually transferred back to active firefighting duty. Two years after the first incident, the captain arrived at a house fire. Again, he appeared to be frightened – unable to put on his equipment, take or give orders, and showing physical distress. He was hospitalized and diagnosed with “global transient amnesia.” Management (reasonably) considered this a “possibly dangerous situation,” and he was again reassigned to the training academy.

Nonetheless (and despite all common sense), the captain wanted to be reassigned to active firefighting. Because he was a union member, he filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement. Shockingly (to me), a hearing examiner ordered that he be returned to his fire suppression duties. Unsurprisingly (to me), the City appealed this decision to the trial court, at which point the captain brought claims against the City for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Texas state law. Shockingly (to me), the jury found that the City had engaged in disability discrimination against the captain, although it awarded him no damages (he did get $362,000 in attorneys’ fees). Shockingly (to me) the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed the disability discrimination verdict. Continue Reading Firefighter’s Fear of Fire Is Not Disability