HR Management & Compliance

ADA Ruling: Employer Not Required to Create New Positions to Accommodate Employee with Broken Leg

Job creation is the economy’s number one problem, but it’s reasonable to predict that not one job will be created because an employee broke his or her leg. That won’t stop some workers from trying, though, as shown in this Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) case  

In White v. Interstate Distributor, Co., a fired worker sued, and faulted his employer for not creating a new position to accommodate him after he got injured. But the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would have none of it.

When Joseph White, a truck and trailer technician, broke his leg in a motorcycle accident, he used FMLA leave to recover. When his leave was about to expire, his employer, Interstate Distributor Co., contacted him about his return and asked whether he would require any accommodations. White’s doctor said that for one to two months, he should refrain from any climbing or heavy lifting.

White’s job description, however, listed lifting as an essential function because technicians perform brake and starter repair work, tire work and other work with heavy engine parts. His employer informed him that there were no positions available that would accommodate his restrictions.

White suggested that he could decommission trucks, but the employer responded that this was done by all technicians on an as-needed basis and that the task itself could not amount to a full-time job. Because the employer was not required to create a new position for him, he was fired.

White sued, alleging that Interstate failed to accommodate his disability, in violation of the ADA. A federal district court dismissed his claims, finding that Interstate had offered to try to find a reasonable accommodation in good faith and properly determined White was not otherwise qualified for his job as a truck technician because he could not perform the position’s essential functions, with or without an accommodation.

White appealed but the 6th Circuit upheld the lower court’s ruling. White was admittedly no longer qualified for the technician position and he failed to identify any reasonable accommodation that would have allowed him to return to work.

“The only ‘reasonable’ accommodation White requested was that he be allowed to decommission trucks,” the court said, and Interstate has shown that “decommissioning trucks is only done on an ad hoc, temporary basis, and is not a full-time, permanent position at Interstate.” Sixth Circuit precedent requires that the employee identify a vacant position for which he or she is qualified (Willard v. Potter, (6th Cir., 2008)). “White has not done this, and the ADA does not require Interstate to turn ‘decommissioning’ into a full-time position in order to ‘reasonably’ accommodate him (Brown v. Chase Brass & Copper Co., (6th Cir., 2001)).