Social anxiety disorder is a recognized disability, and employers need to consider work assignments with that disorder in mind. The Fourth Circuit holds that a district court erred by dismissing a claim (on summary judgment) against a public-sector employer that fired an employee instead of assigning her away from public-oriented, customer service duties. It also observes that a recent Supreme Court decision should make summary judgment for defendants more difficult to obtain.
The Fifth Circuit issues some useful guidance on an employer's obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to offer job restructuring as a reasonable accommodation to disabled employees. The employer here, according to the summary judgment record, failed to offer support to an employee with epilepsy in the form of alternative transportation and assistance with computer-related tasks. The panel also clears up the circuit standard for a plaintiff to prove causal nexus under the ADA, and restates that an ADA plaintiff need only prove that disability was a motivating factor in the adverse action.
The Seventh Circuit issues a divided opinion on the issue of "qualified individual" under the ADA, in a case concerning a nursing-home beautician. While unanimously agreeing to reverse summary judgment, the panel splits over the question of how to analyze whether pushing the residents' wheelchairs was properly classified as an "essential function."
The Fifth Circuit addresses a seldom-litigated question under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j): whether plaintiffs in religious reasonable-accommodation cases must prove both that they hold sincere ("bona fide") religious convictions, and that the activities to be accommodated constitute true religious beliefs. The panel splits 2-1, with the majority reversing summary judgment for the employer and holding that even a non-religious observance (here, a community service event for the plaintiff's church) might require accommodation.
In the past eighteen months, there have been favorable decisions from the Second and Sixth Circuits about unconventional work scheduling as a reasonable accommodation. The D.C. Circuit joins those courts with a new Rehabilitation Act decision holding that the Department of Agriculture should have considered a flextime schedule for an employee under treatment for depression.
"At issue in this case is whether a telecommuting arrangement could be a reasonable accommodation for an employee suffering from a debilitating disability." The Sixth Circuit, in a 2-1 split opinion, holds that the EEOC is entitled to a trial on behalf of an employee with irritable bowel syndrome ("IBS") for ADA discrimination and retaliation. The panel majority holds, in the course of its analysis, that a four-day-a-week telecommuting schedule might be considered a reasonable accommodation.
In a dramatic turnabout for the plaintiff, the Sixth Circuit not only reverses summary judgment in this ADA case - holding that There was a genuine dispute of material fact whether a monocular firefighter could perform the essential functions of his job - but then disqualifies the original district court judge in the case on the grounds of appearance of partiality, when that judge arbitrarily limited plaintiff's discovery and then scolded him (groundlessly) for violating a court order.
Any employer that fires a disabled worker on the heels of a request for an ADA workplace accommodation - and entirely disregards a doctor's recommendation - is nothing if not buying trouble. The Seventh Circuit reverses summary judgment on just such a claim, holding that the employee presented a genuine dispute of material fact when she was fired just days after filing paperwork from her physician requesting scheduled rest periods. The record includes deposition testimony by a decision maker that "I don't believe that the doctor is in a position to make that determination. It is his opinion."
Within a week of Abercrombie & Fitch ("A&F") announcing a settlement with the EEOC of two Title VII religious accommodation claims involving hijab-wearing employees in California, the Tenth Circuit orders entry of judgment for the clothing retailer against the EEOC in a similar case arising out of Oklahoma. The 2-1 decision applies a formalistic circuit rule that "the applicant or employee must initially provide the employer with explicit notice of the conflicting religious practice and the need for an accommodation for it." Employees are forewarned that, where workplace accommodations are concerned, courts expect you speak up for your rights.