Eleventh Circuit Decided that a Municipal Employer Was Not Required to Accommodate Worker who Sought Permission to Telecommute

As an employer, sometimes a key to defending successfully against a disability discrimination claim is having thorough proof that you engaged a disabled employee clearly and consistently throughout the entire process regarding accommodations as well as essential job functions. Experienced Georgia disability discrimination attorneys can help you determine what your rights and obligations are. In a recent case of a city worker in Florida, the employer won because the employee sought an accommodation allowing telecommuting, and the employer was able to establish that regular, full-time, and in-office work attendance was an essential function of the employee’s job.

The case involved a woman named Janet who worked as a purchasing agent for the City of Tallahassee. That job entailed interacting with outside vendors, some of whom would show up unannounced. Her job also included selecting and training vendors, which took place in the employer’s office site.

Three years into her employment, Janet’s doctors diagnosed her with fibromyalgia. Janet sought, and the city granted, numerous steps to accommodate her condition. She received a special parking space, along with an exemption from certain aspects of the employer’s dress code. Furthermore, the city allowed Janet to work a special schedule, which meant working four nine-hour days and one four-hour day.

In 2013, the employee sought another accommodation:  to work from home when her fibromyalgia “flared” up. The employer said no, concluding that the nature of Janet’s job meant that regular, full-time attendance was an essential function of the position, especially in light of the degree of face-to-face interaction with vendors that came with doing the work. The city also determined that, given Janet’s poor attendance record in the months preceding the request, she was unable to perform this essential function and instituted a three-month search to find her a job whose essential functions she could do. Eventually, Janet took early retirement instead.

Janet sued the city for disability discrimination. Her complaint alleged that her employer improperly failed to accommodate her disability. The city moved for summary judgment to end the case, and the trial court ruled in its favor. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision on appeal.

The employer was able to succeed because it showed that the employee’s case fell short of clearing one of the initial hurdles of any disability discrimination case. One of the first things that a plaintiff must demonstrate in a disability discrimination case is that she was a “qualified individual,” meaning that she was qualified to do the job for which she sought an accommodation. Being qualified, in this context, means (among other things) that you are capable of performing all of the essential functions of the job.

In this situation, one of the essential functions of the city’s purchasing agent job was full-time presence in the office during regular business hours. The job involved extensive in-person interactions with vendors and internal employees, with some of those face-to-face interactions occurring on an unscheduled or impromptu basis. The job involved vendor training, which also had to be done in the office. Armed with this proof, the city was not unreasonable in declaring regular office attendance to be an essential part of the position and finding that the plaintiff had proven herself unable to meet this requirement.

Whether you’re an employee or an employer, it is important to understand exactly what is required in successfully pursuing or successfully defending a disability discrimination case. The knowledgeable Georgia disability discrimination attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert have spent many years working to help employers and employees defend their rights. We are here and ready to help you.

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

More blog posts:

Eleventh Circuit Upholds Decision for Employer That Denied Additional Leave to Employee With Disability, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Jan. 19, 2017

Employer Not Required to Offer Telecommuting Accommodation to Employee Who Could Not Perform Job’s Essential Functions, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Sept. 9, 2015


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