On October 16, 2014, the 7th Circuit reversed summary judgment in favor of the employer in an Americans with Disabilities Act failure-to-accommodate case. Kauffman v. Petersen Health Care, No. 13-3661 (7th Cir., 10-16-2014). The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability–an individual who can perform the essential functions of his or her job with or without a reasonable accommodation. The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. An employer has a duty to provide a qualified individual who has a disability with a reasonable accommodation that would enable him or her to perform the essential functions of his or her job, as long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. When an employee asks for an accommodation because of a disability, the employer must engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine a reasonable accommodation under the circumstances.
A re-assignment of an employee’s non-essential job duties to other employees, that would enable the employee to perform his or her essential job duties, is a reasonable accommodation. Minor adjustments to the work duties of other employees, or duty sharing, must be considered by an employer as a solution to an ADA accommodation request. The plaintiff in Kauffman worked as a hair-dresser at a nursing home. Her disability prevented her from pushing residents to and from their appointments in wheelchairs. The amount of time she spent pushing the residents, which the parties disputed, was a material fact question that precluded summary judgment. If the amount of time was so small that other employees could do the pushing for her, the delegation of that duty to others would be a reasonable accommodation. Unless the employer could show an undue hardship (which the 7th Circuit suggested would be challenging), the employer would be obligated to provide the employee with the reasonable accommodation of duty sharing.
The 7th Circuit also held that the employer’s policy of refusing to accommodate employees with permanent work restrictions violates the ADA.