When it comes to litigating issues in employment law, whether the issue is Family and Medical Leave Act interference, Fair Labor Standards Act retaliation, disability discrimination in violation of Americans with Disabilities Act, or some other violation of employment laws, one of the keys to success, especially as an employer, is having a well-established record of fairness and clear communication with your employee. In a recent case originating in Memphis, an employer’s ability to document that it did everything required to comply with the law allowed it to defeat an employee’s claim that it was liable for disability discrimination. According to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the employer’s issuance of repeated warnings was an essential aspect of the case, and stood in clear contrast to other cases where the employee was successful.
The employer is this case was a large business that operated its customer support call center in Memphis. One of its customer service representatives (CSR) was a woman with depression and anxiety issues.
The CSR had received frequent warnings regarding her attendance for several years from 2007-2014. In 2013, she missed work from January to July. As the CSR was able to use FMLA leave and short-term disability for her absences, the employer allowed the prolonged absence. However, by July 3, 2014, with the CSR having been absent since April 9 of that year, the employer terminated her.
The CSR sued for disability discrimination. She argued that her employer failed to accommodate her disability, which it could have done by providing her with a more flexible schedule and more frequent breaks throughout her eight-hour shifts to deal with her anxiety attacks.
Neither the trial court nor the 6th Circuit was persuaded. There are many ways an employer can defeat a disability discrimination case. One of these is by proving that the employee who has sued is not, in terms of the ADA, qualified to do her job. That is what the courts found here. The employer in this case had ample proof that regular work attendance was an essential job function for its CSRs. CSR absences created many problems for the employer, including longer hold times for its customers and heavier workloads (and lower morale) for the business’s other CSRs who were in attendance.
Another potential pitfall for an employee can center on the accommodation sought. If the employer proves that permitting the accommodation still would not allow the employee to do the essential functions of her job, the discrimination claim will fail. In this case, the CSR’s nurse practitioner recommended that the CSR be allowed to take 10-minute breaks every two hours. However, the CSR admitted in her own testimony that her condition required her to take a break whenever she finished any especially stressful call. The courts concluded that accommodating this CSR with this system of pre-scheduled extra scheduled breaks wouldn’t actually help the employee, as her anxiety attacks (and need to stop working) occurred at random and unplanned intervals. In other words, the courts concluded that this CSR, even with this requested accommodation, still wouldn’t have been qualified to perform the essential functions of her job.
This employer had given their employee considerable leeway and had communicated clearly with her throughout the process. Its ability to prove these facts to the courts was an important part of its successful defense. Whether you are an employer or an employee involved in a disability discrimination case, it is important to have experienced counsel working for you who understands what goes into litigating an ADA case. The Tennessee employment attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert have many years of experience helping employees and employers with their ADA cases.
To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 404-873-8048.
More blog posts:
Groundskeeper’s Inability to Perform All ‘Essential’ Job Duties Dooms ADA Case, 11th Circuit Rules, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Feb. 3, 2017
Eleventh Circuit Upholds Decision for Employer That Denied Additional Leave to Employee With Disability, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Jan. 19, 2017