Hospital Employee Fails to Detail Job, Essential Functions, Sinking Failure to Accommodate Charges

Frank Ferreri

Chicago, IL ( – Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a period of medical leave may be an appropriate accommodation for a worker with a disability if it allows the worker to perform the essential functions of her job.

But, as a hospital employee learned in Griffin-Thomas v. La Rabida Children’s Hospital, No. 21-cv-02033 (N.D. Ill. 01/11/22), to convince a court the she has an ADA claim, a worker must show what the essential functions of the job are and at least detail what her job is.

COVID Symptoms

In April 2020, the employee informed an assistant in the hospital’s risk management department that she was experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. The assistant advised the employee to stay away from work until she was symptom-free for three days, prompting the employee to apply for Family Medical Leave Act leave.

While waiting to hear back about her FMLA request, the employee continued experiencing symptoms and indicated via email a willingness to resign if she needed “time … to fully recuperate from this horrible virus.”

After being out for about two weeks, the employee still experienced throat pain and chest tightness and reported that she would not be “physical able to return.” In response, the hospital’s human resources director emailed the assistant, writing that the hospital was accepting the employee’s resignation.

The employee sued under the ADA, claiming that the hospital denied her the reasonable accommodation of a short leave of absence.

‘Qualified’ Individual?

While a short medical leave may be a reasonable accommodation in certain circumstances, an employee must be a “qualified individual” to come within the protections of the ADA. Under the ADA, a qualified individual with a disability is a person who can: 1) satisfy the requisite skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position; and 2) perform the essential functions of the position with or without a reasonable accommodation.

In the employee’s case, the court found that the employee didn’t produce enough evidence to show that she was “qualified” for ADA purposes, and thus it ruled in the hospital’s favor.

The court explained that the employee’s inability to show how she could perform the essential functions of the job sunk her case.

“She offers no facts regarding her ability to perform the essential functions of her position,” the court wrote. “Indeed, she does not even identify her position, let alone its essential functions.”

Without knowing what the employee’s job was, the court could not consider what the essential functions of it were nor decide whether the employee was qualified for the job could perform its essential functions with or without an accommodation.