Employment Law Daily Though injured by hotel guest, housekeeper’s inability to meet minimum cleaning requirements defeats ADA claim
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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Though injured by hotel guest, housekeeper’s inability to meet minimum cleaning requirements defeats ADA claim

By Kathleen Kapusta, J.D.

Although it was undisputed for summary judgment purposes that an employee had an ADA-qualifying disability, she failed to show that she was a qualified individual, capable of performing the essential functions of the housekeeping position.

Cleaning 17 “room credits” per shift is an essential function of the Westin hotel housekeeping position, a federal court in Illinois determined, and because a housekeeper with serious physical injuries to her elbow, knee, neck, and back could no longer perform that function with or without a reasonable accommodation, Westin was entitled to summary judgment on her ADA disparate treatment and failure to accommodate claims. Nonetheless, the court opined, “The conclusion that Westin is not liable under the ADA does not speak to whether, though not required by law, it ought to go the extra mile to find some other position for [her] given the truly unfortunate circumstances (a hotel guest physically attacking her) that first gave rise to her issues at work” (Corrales v. Westin Hotel Management LP dba The Westin Lombard Yorktown Center Hotel, April 22, 2019, Feinerman, G.).

Westin housekeepers are expected to clean at least 17 “room credits” per eight-hour shift. Credits earned for cleaning a particular room vary depending on the number and type of beds in the room. In the six years the employee worked as a housekeeper before she was injured, she cleaned at least 17 room credits every shift. After an October 2014 attack, she took three days off and upon her return was subject to numerous physical restrictions imposed by her doctor. In response, Westin temporarily reassigned her to light-duty work.

Released. During the nine months her worker’ comp claim was pending, she submitted several doctor’s notes restricting her from cleaning more than 15 “rooms” per day and lifting no more than 10 pounds, so Westin continued to assign her light duty. When, In May 2016, a doctor who conducted an independent medical exam related to her workers’ comp claim determined that she could return to full duty, Westin again assigned her to cleaning rooms, starting with fewer than 17 room credits and gradually increasing to 17 over a three-week period.

Sent home. During that same period, she provided a note from her treating physician who concluded that she could clean no more than 12 “rooms” per shift and that she needed to alternate 45 minutes of standing work with 45 minutes of sedentary work and could not lift, carry, pull, or push more than 10 pounds. When the employee advised HR that the restrictions would “last the rest of her life,” she was sent home and subsequently told that only full duty housekeeping positions were available.

Essential job function. While it was undisputed for summary judgment purposes that the employee had an ADA-qualifying disability that prevented her from cleaning 17 room credits during an eight-hour shift, the parties disputed whether this was an essential job function of the housekeeper position. Here, Westin’s stated expectations and actual practices showed that cleaning 17 room credits per shift was an essential job function and the employee in fact cleaned 17 room credits every shift between 2008 and her October 2014 injury. And although the housekeeper job description did not set forth the 17-credit requirement, it required various physical capabilities such as standing for four hours, regularly lifting up to 50 pounds, and maneuvering carts weighing up to 250 pounds that were necessary to clean 17 room credits within eight hours.

Not strictly upheld. Arguing that the 17-credit minimum was not strictly upheld in practice, the employee pointed out that when she returned after being cleared by the workers’ comp doctor, Westin allowed her clean fewer than 17 room credits for the first two months and in at least one instance relaxed the requirement for housekeepers assigned to clean room that took longer than usual to clean. But this did not undermine Westin’s understanding that the 17 room credits was an essential job function. She could not use her temporarily reduced workload to defeat this understanding and she failed to show that when Westin allowed housekeepers assigned to particularly challenging rooms to complete two or three fewer room credits, it did not require of them the same level of physical performance, or the same amount of actual work, as is required to clean 17 room credits of average difficulty. Accordingly, said the court, no reasonable jury could find that cleaning 17 room credits was not an essential function of Westin’s housekeeper position.

Reasonable accommodation. The parties also disputed whether a reasonable accommodation could allow the employee to perform that essential job function. While the employee argued that the restrictions in her doctor’s note—cleaning no more than 12 room credits, alternating 45 minutes of standing work with 45 minutes of sedentary work, and lifting, carrying, pulling, and pushing no more than 10 pounds—together constituted a reasonable accommodation, she admitted that an accommodation consisting of those restrictions would require other housekeepers to clean the remaining five room credits.

And that, said the court, defeated her claim the accommodation was reasonable as the ADA does not require an employer to have another employee perform a position’s essential function. Further, her failure to show how Westin could reduce her room credit obligations without eliminating an essential function of the housekeeping position prevented her from proving that her requested accommodation was reasonable.

Light duty. As to the employee’s contention that extending the temporary light duty job she had been assigned was a reasonable accommodation, because her restrictions were permanent, her accommodation request would obligate Westin to make permanent what was otherwise a temporary light-duty position for recovering employees, something the ADA does not require.

Interactive process. Finally, while the employee also argued that Westin failed to meet with her to discuss her work restrictions, any failure of the interactive process is not an independent basis for liability under the ADA. And here, said the court, regardless of any breakdown of the interactive process, Westin was entitled to summary judgment on the ADA discrimination claim because she failed to show she was a qualified individual, capable of performing the essential functions of the housekeeping job with or without reasonable accommodation.

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