Bus Driver’s 4th Leave Request Doesn’t Meet Essential Functions Standards

Frank Ferreri

Tampa, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – When an employee seeks leave for surgery but doesn’t have surgery scheduled, it might be tough for her to claim that it’s a reasonable accommodation.

That’s how a federal court came down in Collins v. School Board of Pinellas County, No. 8:18-cv-2145-T-33TGW (M.D. Fla. 11/19/20) when a bus driver’s fourth request for leave following an on-the-job accident didn’t show a Florida school district how it would let her perform the job’s essential functions.

No Limitations, Canceled Surgery

The accident occurred when a firetruck hit the driver’s side of the bus at a stop light. The driver filed a workers’ compensation claim. The doctor provided by the school district’s carrier treated her for a neck sprain and found no functional limitations. This doctor found that the driver had reached maximum medical improvement with a 0 percent impairment rating and no functional limitations.

About seven months after the accident with the firetruck, the driver took a three-month leave of absence, exhausting the time she had available under the Family and Medical Leave Act. She sought additional leave two more times related to a surgery on her neck, and the district granted her requests.

The driver canceled her surgery and saw a doctor for treatment. This doctor concluded that she had no functional limitations.

When the driver sought another leave of absence – again to undergo surgery — the district denied the request, pointing to the earlier cancelation. The driver didn’t have another surgery scheduled but indicated that she would have it done over the summer.

The district informed the driver that she could return to work with a doctor’s note indicating that she was fit for duty or she cold resign her position and reapply for the job when she was able to work again.

Despite maintaining that she could have performed her job functions, the driver resigned and applied for Social Security benefits. She then sued the district under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming that the district failed to accommodate her.

Essential Functions, Reasonableness

To build a failure to accommodate claim in court, an employee must show that she had a disability, she requested an accommodation, and the employer failed to provide one and didn’t engage in the interactive process to identify a reasonable accommodation.

The court explained that the driver admitted she could perform all the essential functions of her job without an accommodation. Instead, it appeared to the court that the driver wanted to finish the school year on leave before planning a potential, but unscheduled, surgery over the summer.

Given the driver’s history, the court viewed the fourth leave request as unreasonable.

“The [district] had already provided [the driver] months of leave, including granting her third leave request based on her scheduled surgery,” the court reasoned. “Without having the surgery rescheduled, [the driver’s] request for yet another medical leave of absence based on the need for surgery was unreasonable as a matter of law.”

As a result, the court found that the district complied with the ADA and granted summary judgment in the district’s favor, dismissing the teacher’s case against it.

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