In many types of litigation, timing can be crucial. This is true regarding how you go about carrying out your case procedurally, and it is often true when it comes to the facts of your case, especially if an employee is advancing a disability discrimination case based upon a denial of a leave request. In one recent case from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, that court upheld a lower court’s ruling for an employer. Since the employee was not able to do her job presently or in the immediate future, the employer’s denial of leave was not unreasonable.
The employee in this case had been a member of a campus police force at a Florida university since 2003. After a decade on the job, the officer injured her knee. The injury required surgery and, since department policy required all of the officers to work 12-hour patrol shifts, an extended absence from work pending her doctor’s clearing her to walk a 12-hour patrol.
Nine months into her approved absence, in June 2014, the officer informed her employer that she’d need at least another six months off from work until her knee was sufficiently healthy to obtain clearance from her doctor. The university denied her request for additional leave and, two weeks later, terminated her. The termination took place six days before the employee would have qualified for additional leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The employee sued for disability discrimination, arguing that her employer failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation when it turned down her June 2014 request for additional leave. The employer fought back by asking the trial court to issue summary judgment in its favor. In that motion, the employer argued that the officer’s request – another six months of leave after the employer had previously allowed her to take nine months off work – was not a reasonable accommodation.
The trial court agreed with the employer and granted the summary judgment motion.
The employee appealed, but the 11th Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision. In cases like this, in which the issue disputed between the employee and the employer is the reasonableness of a leave request, the courts must analyze whether the requested leave will “allow someone to perform his or her job duties in the present or in the immediate future.” If it will, it may be reasonable. If it won’t, it may not qualify as a reasonable accommodation.
In this case, the officer’s doctor had concluded that the officer wouldn’t be able to walk a 12-hour patrol shift for at least another six months. That duration, the 11th Circuit concluded, was too long to meet the legal standard of “in the present or in the immediate future.” Even by December 2014, after 15 months off work, it was possible that the officer still wouldn’t be ready to return to work. Under that set of facts, the officer’s request of six months of additional leave wasn’t reasonable, according to the court. That meant that the employee had nothing she could cite as a reasonable accommodation that she requested but that the employer denied, which meant she could not maintain a disability discrimination claim.
The law requires employers to accommodate employees with disabilities but only to the extent that the requested accommodation is reasonable. If you are dealing with an employee making an unreasonable request, you need to talk to experienced disability discrimination counsel. The diligent Georgia disability discrimination attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert have many years of experience helping both employers and employees in handling their disability discrimination cases.
To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call (877) 986-5529.
More blog posts:
Sixth Circuit: National Security Exception Doesn’t Diminish Employer’s Obligation Not to Engage in Disability Discrimination, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Jan. 5, 2017
11th Circuit Says Employer Not Required to Adopt Reporter’s Suggested Disability Accommodations, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, March 24, 2016