Job Description Not Detailed Enough to Prove Night Shift Is Essential Function of Job

by Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
Contact

A federal district court has recently ruled that a night-shift emergency dispatcher with diabetes and hypertension, whose doctor stated that his health would be improved by working day shifts, could proceed on his claim that his employer’s refusal to allow him to work day shifts violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Szarawara v. County of Montgomery, No. 12-5714 (June 27, 2013). In denying the employer’s motion to dismiss at the initial stage of the litigation, the court rejected the argument that language in a job description requiring employees to be able to work “various shifts” made working the night shift an essential function of the job. In addition, the court refused to accept the employer’s argument that the employee should have tried other ways to improve his condition before seeking to change his night-shift schedule.

James Szarawara, an emergency dispatcher for the County of Montgomery, Pennsylvania, suffered from headaches, dizziness, and loss of focus, all of which affected his work performance. After receiving three disciplinary warnings, Szarawara told his manager that he believed that his performance problems were caused by his diabetes and hypertension. He provided documentation showing that his doctor had prescribed “proper sleep patterns,” which would include “working during daytime hours.”

As an alternative to Szarawara’s request for day-shift hours, the county suggested unpaid medical leave, which Szarawara declined. Szarawara suggested that he would accept part-time night-shift employment, or a transfer to a lower paying day-shift job, but the county refused to make either change. Szarawara resigned from his night-shift dispatcher position, believing it to be in the best interest of his health. He ultimately brought a federal court action against the county under the ADA and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), which the county moved to dismiss. 

Szarawara claimed that he could have performed all of the essential functions of his job if he had been permitted to work day shifts. In response, the county argued that a request to move to the day-shift was unreasonable because working night shifts was an essential function of the dispatcher’s job. The court disagreed, noting that the job description simply required working “various shifts” and “rotating schedules.” It contained no language that rendered working night shifts an essential function of the dispatcher’s job. That lack of more specific language created a factual issue that precluded dismissal of the ADA claim at the initial stage of the litigation.

The court also pointed out that the language of the doctor’s note, which seemed to put the onus of improvements in Szarawara’s health primarily on Szarawara, did not relieve the county of its obligations under the ADA. Although Szarawara’s doctor stated that “other changes” in lifestyle would improve Szarawara’s condition, the court specifically held that an employee is not required to exhaust all other possible methods of mitigating the effects of an alleged disability before requesting an accommodation from his employer. The motion to dismiss was denied on Szarawara’s ADA accommodation claim.

The court made two additional holdings that are noteworthy. First, the court found that Szarawara’s “regarded as” disabled claim, which also alleged a failure to accommodate, was not a cognizable claim under the ADA because the 2008 amendments to the ADA (known as the “ADAAA”) do not require accommodation for an individual who meets the definition of “disability” solely because he is regarded as disabled.

Second, the court dismissed Szarawara’s PHRA failure to accommodate claim. It did so on the basis that the PHRA has not expanded the definition of “disability” in a way similar to the expansion of that term under the ADA/ADAAA. Szarawara’s general allegation that he suffered from “headaches, dizziness, and loss of focus,” which led to discipline at work, was insufficient to allow an assessment of the magnitude of the limitation he faced in a major life activity. The court dismissed Szarawara’s claim under the PHRA.

This case is a wake-up call to employers who have not recently reviewed their written job descriptions. As evidenced by the court’s analysis of Szarawara’s claims, a vague or general statement regarding the functions, requirements, or limitations on job duties may not be interpreted by the court to create an “essential function” of the position. Functions should be described completely and objectively, and in enough detail to support an argument related to the functions’ importance to the overall job duties.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
Contact
more
less

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.
Feedback? Tell us what you think of the new jdsupra.com!