What is an essential function of your job? The answer may affect your ability to bring a disability discrimination lawsuit.
A basic rule of the federal anti-disability discrimination law (the ADA and the ADAAA) is that employers are prohibited from discriminating against “qualified individuals with a disability” in the terms and conditions of employment. A “qualified individual” is a person with any medical, physiological, or psychiatric condition that substantially limits a major life activity – for example, blindness is covered because it substantially limits the major life activity of seeing. Further,
according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) the qualified individual must be able to perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.
Essential functions are generally the basic duties an employee must perform. Requiring the ability to perform “essential” functions assures that an individual with a disability will not be considered unqualified simply because of inability to perform marginal or incidental job functions.
Determining what the essential functions are of a particular job may be determined in many ways, including by looking the job description, evaluating the type of activity a worker spends the bulk of their time doing, or reviewing a collective bargaining agreement that spells out job duties.
In a recent case, Keith v. Oakland County, a Michigan court reviewed whether a Michigan county violated the ADA when it failed to hire a lifeguard at a pool because he was deaf. Whether the applicant could bring a claim for discrimination was based in large part on whether the ability to hear was determined to be an essential function of lifeguarding.
If you have questions about the ADA/ADAAA or believe that you may have suffered disability discrimination at work, it is important to consult with a dedicated Atlanta disability discrimination attorney right away.
In Keith the lifeguard applicant, Nicholas Keith, presented evidence that he could rely on visual cues to perform many of the key functions of being a lifeguard, and with slight modification could perform the others. He included evidence that swimmers in distress don’t cry out for help but instead show visual signs – such as splashing and waving – to call attention to their situation. With the use of a whistle and other physical gestures, Keith could respond to swimmers in need.
Additional evidence included expert opinion from sources who have knowledge, education, and experience regarding the ability of deaf individuals to serve as lifeguards. As Judge Richard Allen Griffin noted, “They all opine that the ability to hear is unnecessary to enable a person to perform the essential functions of a lifeguard.” Other evidence supporting Keith’s qualifications included evidence that Keith had received his lifeguard certification after completing the county’s junior lifeguard training course in 2006 and its lifeguard-training program the following year. Although the county provided the services of an ASL interpreter to relay verbal instructions to Keith during both training programs, Keith received no assistance in training for the physical aspects of the position, such as executing lifesaving tasks.
The court determined that whether Keith was could perform the essential functions of the job was not clear-cut, and that a reasonable jury should have a chance to weigh the evidence.
For more information or if you have questions about disability discrimination, please contact the experienced Georgia disability discrimination lawyers at Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP for an immediate case evaluation.