In a recent 7th Circuit decision, the court held that promoting an employee is not a “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In Brown v. Milwaukee Board of School Directors, the court held that when the employer ultimately terminated an assistant principal who could “not be in the vicinity of potentially unruly students” it did not violate the ADA.
The ADA provides that an employer cannot terminate an employee who can perform all of the essential functions of his or her job with or without a reasonable accommodation. Reassigning an employee to a vacant position may be a reasonable accommodation under the Act. The employee does not have to be the “most qualified” employee for a vacant position, but he does have to be “qualified” to perform the work of the position.
In the instant case, the restrictions placed upon the employee by her health care provider were all but impossible for the employer to accommodate. As an educator and assistant principal, the court held that it is all but impossible to insure that the employee will have not contact with “potentially unruly students” as all students have the “potential” to be “unruly.” As is often the case in such situations, the restrictions placed upon the employee essentially cost her her job.
To its credit, over the course of the employee’s three year medical leave, the employer engaged in the interactive process with the employee and made numerous efforts to find a position that would accommodate her. She refused the positions offered on the basis of the fact that she might have contact with “potentially unruly students.” The employee offered one alternative, a promotion. The court, in upholding the district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the employer, that a promotion is not a reasonable accommodation under the Act.
This seems like a case of an employee using a disability to advance an agenda. In this case, it failed. This is an encouraging case for employers, and it further clarifies an employer’s obligations to provide reasonable accommodations under the ADA. If you have questions regarding your obligations under the ADA or need help navigating the confusing landscape of “reasonable accommodations,” do not hesitate to contact an Ancel Glink labor and employment attorney.