- The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review an appeals court's holding that "a multimonth leave of absence is beyond the scope of a reasonable accommodation" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., No. 15-3754 (7th Cir. Sept. 20, 2017)).
- The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reached that conclusion last year, sending "shockwaves" through the employment law community. The ruling was generally seen as a win for employers, although its scope is limited to Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
- In declining the petition, the High Court leaves Severson intact.
When the 7th Circuit issued its opinion in Severson, employers were thrilled, hoping that the ADA leave tide was finally shifting. The ADA certainly may require short leaves as a reasonable accommodation, the 7th Circuit said in Severson; but "[l]ong-term medical leave is the domain of the FMLA," the three-judge panel wrote.
By declining to take up the case, the Court leaves the ruling intact for employers in the 7th Circuit, but some in the business community had hoped the right-learning Court would accept the petition and affirm the findings.
For now, this means the 7th Circuit remains the only jurisdiction with this precedent in place. Other courts could certainly follow suit, but employers should proceed with extreme caution, Terri Rhodes, CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition, previously told HR Dive. State and local laws, as well as company policies, still apply; and it's always a good idea to consult an attorney before you fire someone in this kind of situation, she said. Severson could very well be the beginning of a sea change, but, as Rhodes said when the ruling came out, "no dancing on the tabletop just yet."