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UPS driver wasn’t entitled to preferred ADA accommodation, 4th Cir. rules

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Dive Brief:

  • UPS reasonably accommodated a West Virginia driver with lower body pain by placing him on unpaid leave until he could return to work, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held July 10 in Hannah v. United Parcel Service, Inc.
  • After the driver was diagnosed with sacroiliitis, his doctor cleared him for work so long as he avoided prolonged sitting for about a month, according to court documents. He asked to be accommodated with a smaller truck, which would have a softer suspension and give him an easier ride, or for “inside” work that didn’t involve driving. UPS found neither option viable: It said it had no openings for inside work, and giving him a smaller truck meant changing his route, lengthening his hours and increased safety risks, according to the record. When he returned from unpaid leave, he sued UPS, alleging it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by not giving him the accommodation he wanted.
  • A district court dismissed his claims and, on appeal, the 4th Circuit — which covers Maryland, North and South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia — upheld the ruling for UPS. “In short, [the plaintiff] has not carried his burden of demonstrating that the accommodations he requested were reasonable,” the court said. And the ultimate discretion to choose among reasonable accommodations rests with the employer, it explained. In addition, the ADA “specifically authorizes unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation,” when the leave is temporary and there is reason to believe the employee will recover during this time, the panel said.

Dive Insight:

The ADA requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified applicant or employee with a disability, unless doing so would cause undue hardship, according to a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance.

A qualified individual is someone with a disability who is able to perform their job’s essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodation, the guidance explains. However, a medical condition can be temporary or episodic and still qualify as a disability, so long as it substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, breathing) when the impairment is active, another EEOC document points out.

Reasonable accommodation means providing a modification the person needs to do their job or to enjoy the benefits and privileges of the job, one expert previously told HR Dive.

“Reasonable” refers to being “feasible” or “plausible,” the EEOC guidance explains. This could involve making changes to a schedule: In an EEOC example, a day care employee works 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., but because of her disability, she asks to work 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Because the day care is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and it has enough staff coverage in the morning, it must provide the accommodation, the EEOC says.

The ADA favors an “interactive process” of finding an accommodation. The exact nature of the dialogue will vary, the EEOC guidance points out. In many cases, the disability and the type of accommodation will be obvious, and there may be little need to engage in a discussion, the guidance says. In other situations, the employer may need to ask questions concerning the nature of the disability and the individual’s functional limitations, it adds.

The only ADA limitation on an employer’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodation is if doing so would cause “undue hardship” to the employer, the EEOC guidance states.

Undue hardship isn’t limited to financial difficulty, the guidance explains. Rather, it also includes accommodations that would be “unduly extensive, substantial, or disruptive” or “fundamentally alter nature or operation of the business,” according to the EEOC.

In this case, UPS properly assessed the driver’s requested accommodations, the 4th Circuit said. The record showed it acknowledged his requests and asked his medical provider to complete a medical information form, the court pointed out. After receiving the form, UPS officials, including the HR manager, met with the driver.

Following the meeting, they determined that giving him a different truck would violate the collective bargaining agreement because trucks were assigned according to driver bids and seniority, court documents indicated. The CBA also prohibited the driver from sharing his route — a solution the driver proposed, so he wouldn’t have to sit for prolonged periods. Additionally, the use of a smaller vehicle would involve multiple trips; therefore, deliveries could not be done in a timely manner, the process would not be cost effective and it would implicate safety risks, the 4th Circuit noted.

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