No work from home for pregnant employee who taught, met with patients, supervised staff
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Monday, August 21, 2017

No work from home for pregnant employee who taught, met with patients, supervised staff

By Brandi O. Brown, J.D.

In an unpublished opinion, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a district court decision granting summary judgment to a hospital that denied an employee’s request to be allowed to work from home as an accommodation for pregnancy complications she was experiencing. The court explained that three of her job duties—teaching classes, meeting with patients, and supervising a staff member—were essential functions and, thus, that being allowed to work from home full time was not a reasonable accommodation. The appeals court also affirmed the district court’s rulings on the employee’s other claims (Everett v. Grady Memorial Hospital, Corp. dba Grady Health System, August 15, 2017, Martin, B.).

The employee, who had worked for Grady Memorial Hospital Corporation for several years, became the program manager of its Car Seat Program in 2005. That program was responsible for educating new parents about car seats and providing them where needed. According to the employee’s job description, her essential job duties included coordination and implementation duties. The employer-provided job requirements also included lifting as much as 25 pounds and other “maximal” physical requirements. The parties agreed that her “primary duties” included overseeing car seat distribution, developing program materials, administering the car seat program, attending management meetings, supervising one of the health educators, and conducting educational activities.

Pregnancy complications. In January 2015, she sued her employer alleging violations of the FLSA. After summary judgment was granted on those FLSA claims, she requested leave to amend her complaint to add claims based on events that occurred a few months later. Specifically, she alleged that beginning in February she asked for intermittent leave because of pregnancy complications. That request was granted. However, in April she presented a doctor’s note requesting that she be allowed “light duty,” which was shortly thereafter clarified to include lifting limitations and restrictions on her standing and walking activities. Based on the new limitations, the employee’s supervisor concluded that she could no longer perform the essential functions of her job and the employee was placed on FMLA leave.

Telecommuting requested as accommodation. When the employee sought leave to amend her complaint, the employer offered her the opportunity to return to her job with the limitations, restoration of her leave, and compensation for the days she missed. However, by that time her medical condition had worsened and her doctor said she would need to work exclusively from home. The employer determined that many of the employee’s essential functions could not be done from home. The employee amended her complaint twice more and ultimately added claims that included failure to accommodate under the ADA, pregnancy discrimination and retaliation under Title VII, and FLSA retaliation. After she had her baby she was unable to return to work as planned because of additional medical issues, but the employer allowed her to remain on unpaid leave after her FMLA leave expired. She returned to her position in October 2015. The employer moved for summary judgment on all claims, which was granted by the district court. The employee appealed.

Failure to accommodate. Teaching classes, meeting with patients, and supervisory duties were essential functions of the employee’s job, the court concluded. Although she argued that her job description only stated that she was responsible for coordinating patient visits and classes, that she could perform her administrative duties from home, and that, in any event, she spent very little time on patient visits and classes, the court was not persuaded. The employer presented evidence, in addition to the written job description, that described physical components of the job (the employer’s list of job requirements) and her supervisors testified that her physical presence was needed. While the employee noted that the job requirements also required telework from home, the court noted that it did not say such work was required full time and no other employee had worked exclusively from home.

Not reasonable. The court also looked at the time spent performing those functions and the consequences of the employee not performing them. The employee had, in fact, created a schedule in March 2015 that detailed her functions. According to that schedule, she taught four courses each week, met with patients three days a week, and met with the health educators, including the one she supervised, every morning. Those duties took up 10 hours of her 32 hour-per-week schedule. The consequence of not having the employee perform those functions would be that other employees would have to do them. However, the court explained, the employer was not required to impose her duties on others and “the need to do so where only a limited number of other employees were qualified to perform these duties is evidence that these functions were essential.”

Considering those essential functions and the impact of the employee not performing them, the court continued, allowing the employee to work from home full time was not a reasonable accommodation. The court also agreed with the district court that the employer had met its obligation to engage in the interactive process—the employer was only required to give reasonable accommodation, not the exact one the employee desired.

PDA claims. After rejecting a claim by the employee that the lower court should not have considered summary judgment on her pregnancy discrimination claim because the defendants had waived it, the court considered the merits of the lower court’s decision and affirmed. Again, the court relied upon the supervisor’s determination that certain duties were an essential function of the employee’s job. A reasonable employer could “be motivated by not wanting to forego the essential functions of an employee’s position.” And the employee’s allegation that her supervisor showed reluctance to speak to her directly and was not familiar with all the details of her position did not make her testimony “unworthy of credence.” The employee failed to point to specific evidence that the supervisor had a discriminatory motivation.

Summary judgment on the employee’s retaliation claims under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the FLSA was also affirmed.

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