On January 4, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed a judgment on a jury verdict in favor of an employer in an Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) lawsuit filed on behalf of an employee by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. AutoZone, Inc., No. 15-1753 (7th Cir., 1/4/2016). The EEOC alleged that the employer failed to accommodate the employee’s disability (lifting restriction) and terminated the employee because of her disability, in violation of the ADA. After a five-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the employer, finding that the employee was not a qualified individual with a disability at the time that her employment was terminated.
To establish an ADA failure to accommodate claim, an employee must show that: (1) he or she was a qualified individual with a disability; (2) the employer was aware of his or her disability; and (3) the employer failed to reasonably accommodate his or her disability. Under the ADA, a qualified individual is someone who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of his or her employment position. The essential functions of a position are the fundamental job duties of the position, as opposed to the marginal functions. The employer’s judgment, the amount of time performing the functions at issue, the work experience of prior employees in the same position, and written job descriptions are factors that help determine the essential functions of a position. In this case, the employee was unable to lift more than 15 pounds with her right arm. The EEOC argued that customer service was the essential function of the employee’s position; and that lifting was just a marginal function. However, the evidence at trial established that heavy lifting was a fundamental duty of the employee’s position, not merely a marginal function. Therefore, the jury found that the employee was not a qualified individual with a disability. The 7th Circuit ruled that the jury verdict was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.