11th Circuit Says Employer Not Required to Adopt Reporter’s Suggested Disability Accommodations

When an employee sues her employer for disability discrimination, there are several things she needs to prove in order to succeed. One of these things relates to the employer’s obligation regarding accommodations, and how far the employer must go to accommodate the employee. In a recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case touching upon this issue, the ruling went against the employee because the accommodations the employee presented were not things the law required the employer to do.

Michaelene Tetteh was an award-winning journalist for WAFF-TV Channel 48 in Huntsville, Alabama. Although she worked as a sports anchor, reporter, and photographer, her achievements went beyond sports — she picked up an Alabama Associated Press award in 2008 for a series she did regarding the fight against sex trafficking, for example. Unfortunately, her career took a detour a year later when, while filming the action at basketball game, she suffered a significant shoulder injury after a player crashed into her.

Due to her injury, Tetteh’s doctors placed her on a five-pound lifting restriction. Tetteh informed the station of her restriction and proposed having an additional employee accompany her to handle the 20-pound video camera she would normally carry. Alternatively, she suggested that the station give her a lighter camera. The station did not accept, instead ordering Tetteh not to return to work until she could carry her regular camera. When Tetteh recovered to the point that she could lift a 20-pound camera, she attempted to return to work. When she did, WAFF informed her that it had replaced her and that no positions were available.

The reporter responded by launching a federal lawsuit. Initially proceeding on her own (although she later changed course and hired counsel to represent her), Tetteh accused the TV station of committing disability discrimination in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The federal District Court ruled against her. In order to succeed in an ADA discrimination case, the employee must be a “qualified individual,” which the law defines as someone qualified for the job in question and who can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Using a camera to photograph and film sporting events was an essential function of Tetteh’s job and, in the court’s view, she had not proven that she could have done the job even if the station gave her a reasonable accommodation.

The reporter appealed, but she still lost, as the appeals court rejected each of her arguments. She asserted that video photography was not an essential function of her job, but her employment contract explicitly stated that her job included “acting as Sports Anchor/Reporter/Photographer” and that, in her industry, “photographer” meant using a video camera like the one at issue in this case.

The court also turned down her argument that she presented reasonable accommodation options that the station rebuffed. While the reporter did propose accommodations, the ones she proposed were not reasonable, according to the court. Tetteh never brought forward proof that the station had a different camera available that was within her lifting restriction. Tetteh’s other accommodation option, that the station assign a separate employee to operate the camera, was also not reasonable under the law, because the ADA does not require an employer “to reallocate job duties in order to change the essential functions of a job.”

In analyzing and assessing a disability discrimination case, it is important to know just how far the law says an employer must go to accommodate an employee. For reliable advice and representation on these and other employment law issues, talk to the skilled Georgia employment law attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our attorneys have a long track record of assisting both employers and employees with disability discrimination issues.

To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 404-873-8048.

More blog posts:

Eleventh Circuit Rejects Employee’s Disability Discrimination Case Due to Proposed Accommodation’s Lack of Reasonableness, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Oct. 6, 2015

Tennessee Staffing Agency and Recycling Center Sued by EEOC for Alleged Disability Discrimination, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, March 4, 2015

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