On May 4, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) in which the plaintiff, an assistant principal until she injured her knee while restraining a student, alleged that the defendant school district failed to accommodate her disability. Brown v. Milwaukee Board of School Directors, No. 16-1971 (7th Cir. May 4, 2017) The ADA requires an employer to provide an employee with a reasonable accommodation as long as the employee has a mental or physical impairment that qualifies as a disability under the ADA and the accommodation enables the employee to perform the essential functions of her job, provided that the accommodation does not result in undue hardship to the employer.
In this case, the plaintiff and her doctor informed the school district that she could not be in the vicinity of potentially unruly students. But all open positions except one–which would have been a promotion–involved proximity to students, all of whom are always potentially unruly, according to the district. When her leave of absence expired before a suitable position was found, the district fired her. The district was not liable for failing to transfer the plaintiff to various open positions involving students because she had said that she could not be in the vicinity of potentially unruly students. And the district was not liable for failing to give her the one open position in which she would not be in the vicinity of students (a Title I Coordinator position) because it would have amounted to a promotion to a position for which she was not the most qualified candidate. While a reasonable accommodation may include reassigning an employee to a vacant position for which she is qualified, the ADA does not require an employer to promote an employee as a reasonable accommodation. Thus, no reasonable accommodation was possible; and the school district was not liable for any violation of the ADA.