11th Cir.: Worker's accommodation request negates 'regarded as' ADA claim
- A UPS employee could not claim his employer improperly regarded him as disabled after he himself initiated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation process (McGuire v. United Parcel Service, Inc., No. 17-cv-13258 (11th Cir. Mar. 28, 2019)).
- It was undisputed that the employee, who had a shoulder injury and was on narcotics, could not return to his original position as a package-car driver, the court found; he was also unable to perform the heavy lifting that was an essential function of the job.
- Once the accommodation process began, the employee was not entitled to a job of his choosing, and he was provided with — and agreed to — the reasonable accommodation of a part-time sorting position. No full-time positions were available or could be created, due to union seniority rules.
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with a disability, defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. It is also illegal to discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of a perceived disability, whether or not such a disability actually exists; this is known as "regarded as" discrimination.
Since 2008, the focus for establishing coverage under the "regarded as" prong of the ADA is on how a person has been treated because of a physical or mental impairment, rather than on what an employer may have believed about the nature of the person's impairment. Because the plaintiff in this case was actually disabled rather than regarded as disabled, the inquiry turned to whether the employer's accommodation was reasonable.
Barring an undue hardship — a difficult standard for employers to meet — employers are required to offer a reasonable accommodation to an otherwise qualified employee with a disability. A reasonable accommodation could include (among other things) job restructuring, a modified or part-time schedule, or reassignment to a vacant position.
An accommodation may be considered "reasonable" even if it isn't specifically what the employee requests or would most prefer. Additionally, as in this case, available accommodations may sometimes be constrained by an employer's or union's seniority system. In this situation, the plaintiff failed to meet the burden of showing special circumstances that would necessitate an exception to the seniority system.