- A FedEx package handler's lifting restriction rendered her unqualified for the job and therefore ineligible for the Americans with Disabilities Act's (ADA) protections, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (Kotaska v. Federal Express, No. 19-2730 (7th Cir. July 17, 2020)).
- The plaintiff had challenged her termination, which followed an injury that led a doctor to limit her regular overhead lifting to no more than 15 pounds. In court, the parties disputed how much weight package handlers were actually required to be able to lift above their heads; some put the requirement at 75 pounds while others suggested it was closer to 15.
- The appeals court, however, said it didn't matter: "Whatever precise weight a handler might need to lift above the waist or shoulders, no reasonable factfinder could place that weight within Kotaska's stringent medical restrictions."
The ADA provides nondiscrimination protection to workers with disabilities who are qualified, with or without reasonable accommodation, to perform the essential functions of their jobs.
Employers are not required to remove an essential function as an accommodation, but some argue that lifting requirements sometimes fall outside that category. They're often properly categorized as a "qualification standard," a federal official opined during a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission webinar. Instead of, for example, "lifting 35 pounds," an essential function would be "lifting packages," Christopher Kuczynski, then-assistant legal counsel said. Standards need to be job-related and consistent with business necessity, he continued.
In Kotastka, the 7th Circuit said "[t]he parties agree that lifting packages, including above the waist and shoulders, is an essential function (really the essential function) of a handler." Only the weight was in dispute, and the plaintiff couldn't meet the minimum alleged requirement, according to the court.
Importantly, the ADA also requires employers to consider accommodations for workers with disabilities, but FedEx concluded that no reasonable changes would accommodate the plaintiff's impairment.