In Rorrer v. City of Stow, the Sixth Circuit reversed a trial court’s dismissal of an ADA claim filed by a firefighter who lost vision in one eye. Rorrer was terminated based on the employer’s assertion that he could no longer perform the essential functions of his job, namely driving an emergency vehicle. The trial court credited the employer’s assertion that driving a fire truck was an “essential function.” But the Sixth Circuit noted that under the relevant EEOC regulations:
“[t]he employer’s determination about what functions are essential is certainly given weight, but it is one of seven factors the court should consider, including ‘[t]he amount of time spent on the job performing the function’ and ‘[t]he consequences of not requiring the [employee] to perform the function.’ The district court appears not only to have given deference to the City’s position, but to have considered only the City’s position, failing to consider all of the § 1630.2 factors while drawing all reasonable inferences in Rorrer’s favor as required at the summary judgment stage.”
(To see the regulations listing the determining factors for essential functions, see here). According to the court, there was conflicting evidence about whether the ability to drive a fire truck was really essential or could have been assigned to someone else. Because the trial court failed to consider all of this evidence, the case is being sent back (and reassigned to a new judge, which is almost unheard of).
What does this case mean for employers? Before you take adverse action against someone who you believe cannot perform the essential functions of the job in question, think long and hard about what the essential functions are and how you determined them. And, it can’t hurt to check with counsel.
(Photo credit HR Insights blog)