Employment Law Daily Employee wants CA-7’s leave as reasonable accommodation per se rule reviewed by SCOTUS
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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Employee wants CA-7’s leave as reasonable accommodation per se rule reviewed by SCOTUS

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The employee on the losing end of a controversial Seventh Circuit opinion ruling that he was not entitled to a multi-month medical leave of absence after he had exhausted his FMLA leave has turned to the Supreme Court for clarification as to whether “there is a per se rule that a finite leave of absence of more than one month cannot be a ‘reasonable accommodation.’”

Notably, in its September 20, 2017, ruling, the appeals court rejected the EEOC’s assertion that long-term leave should be considered a reasonable accommodation under the ADA when certain circumstances are met, since adopting such a position would transform the ADA into a medical-leave statute, which was “an untenable interpretation of the term ‘reasonable accommodation’” (see Worker not entitled to multi-month leave after FMLA exhaustion; extended absence not reasonable accommodation, September 21, 2017).

Courts split on recurring question. The petition for certiorari in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc. (No. 17-1001) asserts that the High Court should take up the case because the question of whether a finite leave of absence of more than a month long “is categorically exempted from the ADA’s reasonable accommodation requirements is an important issue that recurs frequently.” Confusion about the appropriate analytical framework for examining these requested leaves under the ADA’s reasonable accommodation requirements “has matured into an intransigent circuit split,” according to the petition.

Here, the Seventh Circuit applied its per se rule that “a long-term leave of absence cannot be a reasonable accommodation” under the ADA, a ruling that stands against decisions from the First, Sixth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits, the petition asserts. In the Seventh Circuit, even when the requested medical leave would be unpaid and cause no hardship to the employer, and would enable the employee to do the job, the employer still cannot be required to provide the leave as a reasonable accommodation, the petition points out.

On the other hand, for decades, other circuits have rejected such a per se rule and “instead have held that whether a finite, long-term leave of absence from work is a reasonable accommodation under the ADA requires a fact-specific inquiry,” according to the petition.

The case is No. 17-1001.

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