The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed a decision made by the District of Columbia District Court involving a denial of ADA leave.
The case: Minter v. District of Columbia
Penelope Minter sued the District of Columbia for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. The district court granted summary judgment for the District on the grounds, among other things, that no reasonable jury could find either that Minter was qualified for the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, or that Minter was terminated because of her accommodation request.
Minter suffered from sarcoidosis and sarcoid arthritis, a disease involving abnormal collections of inflammatory cells that can create nodules in multiple organs and have long term effects. The disease made it difficult for Minter to maintain a regular 40 hours/week schedule.
At a meeting in September 2006, Minter asked her employer, the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), about working a reduced schedule to accommodate her disability. She met with the ADA coordinator, Sharlene Williams to discuss her situation. Later that month, Minter slipped on a newly waxed floor and sustained a serious injury that severely aggravated her preexisting conditions.
On December 1, 2006, Minter met with Williams again. Williams stated that a reduced schedule would not be a reasonable accommodation and requested Minter’s medical records.
By February 2007, she had stopped working altogether. Between February and May, OCME sent Minter several letters requesting documentation of her injury. Minter did not provide any documentation after these requests. In June, OCME told Minter that she would have to report for duty or provide medical documentation of her injury. OCME stated that if she did neither, it would have to find her absent without leave and subject to disciplinary action.
Minter responded with a fax containing a physician’s certificate stating that she had been completely disabled since her September 26, 2006 injury and she would be so disabled indefinitely. Minter told OCME that she hoped to return by September 2007. OCME was not willing to wait any longer for Minter’s uncertain return and terminated her employment.
Minter sued OCME, alleging that the District:
(1) Unlawfully refused to accommodate her disability; and
(2) Retaliated against her for requesting an accommodation by terminating her employment.
Minter would have had to show that the District refused to accommodate her disability, and that she was a qualified individual. OCME during this time requested medical records to make final judgment on an accommodation for her. The Circuit Court said there can be no genuine dispute that Minter was not a qualified individual on June 1. The ADA defines qualified individual as one who can, with or without reasonable accommodation, perform the essential functions of her position. Also, the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA states that six months is beyond a reasonable amount of time to retain a non-performing employee.
To establish a retaliation claim, Minter would have had to show a connection between her termination and her request for accommodation. The District stated that it terminated Minter, not because she requested an accommodation, but because she abandoned her job. She did so by failing to report to work from February to June 2007 and failing to provide medical documentation supporting her absence, despite repeated requests to do so during that time. Her physician’s statement informed OCME that Minter had been totally disabled since September and that she would be indefinitely. Her cover letter stated that she hoped to return by the beginning of September. Because an essential function of any government job is an ability to appear for work, the Circuit Court concluded that the District’s explanation for terminating Minter was legitimate.
When an employee requests time off for a reason related or possibly related to a disability, the employer should look at the employee’s rights under all of the related laws. A good source is the EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA (Reasonable Accommodation Guidance) http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html.