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Trucker Supervisor Loses ADA Case, Can't Perform 'Essential Functions'

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By William Peacock, Esq. on April 05, 2013 4:02 PM

Jeffrey Knutson excelled as the General Manager of a Home Service food delivery depot. Home Service provides frozen foods to customers' homes or workplaces. He continued being great at his job, even though he suffered a penetrating eye injury in March 2008. Nine months later, he lost his Medical Examiner's Certificate (MEC) and by extension, his Department of Transportation (DOT) qualification.

Home Service gave him 30 days to either obtain a MEC or to find a non-DOT-qualified position at the company. After 30 days, he was fired. He claims that this termination was contrary to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lower court granted summary judgment. The Eighth Circuit affirmed - and it wasn't even close.

Even assuming that his penetrating eye injury and denied MEC qualified him as disabled under the ADA Amendment Act of 2008, he couldn't perform an essential function of his job.

His argument was that he could basically work around any duties that require the use of a delivery truck. He often made deliveries in his personal vehicle and had driven a company truck less than 50 times since November 2007.

However, his personal experience and workarounds are not dispositive. Instead, the test for an "essential function" is:

Evidence to consider in this determination may include: (1) the employer's judgment as to which functions are essential; (2) written job descriptions prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job; (3) the amount of time spent on the job performing the function; (4) the consequences of not requiring the incumbent to perform the function; and (5) the current work experience of incumbents in similar jobs.

The employer requires DOT certification. It did so, in writing, before he was hired. It still does so. Every employed manager with the company is DOT certified. Managers also are required to drive trucks to deliver products and train employees.

As a final point, the court has already decided this issue, with this company, in a prior case. In Guyton v. Schwan Food Co., Inc., the district court found that managers do exactly what Home Service said: drive trucks in interstate commerce to deliver food and train employees. In fact, that 2005 case was the reason why Home Service required all managers to have DOT qualifications.

Though it may have been possible to work around this essential function, employers aren't required to make unreasonable accommodations. Removing essential functions or reassigning those duties to other employees is, by definition, an unreasonable accommodation. Besides, Home Service did try to accommodate him by giving him the option of applying to a non-DOT position with the company.

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