Tallmadge, OH (WorkersCompensation.com) – Changing the way a job is done is often the key to successfully providing an employee with a disability with a reasonable accommodation.
However, as the court in Woodling v. GeoBUILD LLC, No. 5:20-CV-02602-JRA (N.D. Ohio 04/27/22) explained, making an employee a supervisor isn’t necessarily reasonable.
A union laborer for a builder had spinal stenosis and degenerative disk syndrome. His doctor informed him that he needed surgery. Allegedly, the laborer brought up the condition with his supervisor during a meeting and was told that he was valued more “for his brain than his brawn.”
Following surgery and physical therapy, the laborer received temporary disability benefits and unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation.
Later, the laborer emailed the supervisor a doctor’s note indicating that the laborer could return to work for light duty with a lifting restriction of 25 pounds. In this email, the laborer mentioned the possibility of returning to work in a supervisory capacity. In response, the laborer’s supervisor indicated that due to the “safety sensitive nature of his job,” he wanted to avoid the risk of the laborer reinjuring himself.
The supervisor explained that unless the union had other options, the laborer would have to seek unemployment benefits. Nonetheless, the laborer continued to ask for light duty. The company assigned him jobs that limited his lifting to no more than 25 pounds.
Later, the laborer submitted a second doctor’s note indicated that he could return to “regular duty,” but the laborer never submitted a return-to-work form.
Around the same time the laborer was out on medical leave, the company learned about quality issues at a project that the company considered a terminable offense. After conducting an investigation that determined that the laborer was responsible for the work at issue, the company terminated the laborer.
In response, the laborer sued, claiming that the company subjected him to discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to accommodate his disability. Under the ADA, an employee can demonstrate a failure to accommodate by showing that he is qualified for the position with or without an accommodation, the employer knew about the disability, he requested an accommodation, and the employer failed to provide.
While reasonable accommodations consist of modifications or adjustments to the work environment that enable a person with a disability to perform the essential functions of their job, employers do not have to create new jobs as an accommodation.
The court explained that the company met ADA requirements by providing the laborer with unpaid leave, but that it did not have to offer him a supervisory position as a reasonable accommodation.
“Assigning [the laborer] as a supervising laborer would mean that [the company] would need to create a position it did not have before to accommodate [the laborer],” the court explained. “The company was not required to do that.”
As a result, the court granted summary judgment to the company, dismissing the laborer’s claims.