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Essential Functions of One's Job Not Dependent Exclusively on Stated Job Requirements

The question of what constitutes an “essential function” of one’s job is a pivotal inquiry in many disability discrimination cases filed under Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended by the ADAAA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”). Pursuant to the ADA/ADAAA, it is illegal for your employer to discriminate against “qualified individuals with a disability” in the terms and conditions of employment.

Qualified individuals are those who can perform the “essential functions” of the job in question. If you are a qualified individual with a disability, the ADA protects you in several ways. First, it requires that your employer make an effort to reasonably accommodate your disability. This means your employer must make a reasonable effort to help you do your job if, with such reasonable assistance you would be able to perform the “essential functions” of your job. As a result – determining just what are the essential functions of your job – is a critical question in many disability discrimination lawsuits.

In a recent Atlanta disability discrimination lawsuit, Jernigan v. Bellsouth Telecommunications, LLC , litigated by the team of experienced disability discrimination lawyers at Buckley Beal LLP, the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, analyzed the situation of a service technician who suffered a back injury that resulted in climbing and lifting restrictions, and specifically considered whether climbing and heavy lifting were “essential functions” of a service technician.

Relying on recent case law, Samson v. Federal Express, 2014 WL 1226847, the Northern District Court asserted that what is an essential function of your job does not necessarily depend upon the stated job qualification requirements but rather how you actually spend your time on the job. Thus, if a particular duty is a marginal part of a job, rather than a core function when viewed as a whole, it may not be considered “essential.”

The court further noted that “[w]hether a particular job function is essential” is “evaluated on a case-by-case basis examining a number of factors.” Additionally, while an employer’s judgment whether a function is “essential” should be given significant weight, this factor alone is not conclusive. The court reasoned that if an employer could simply assert that a function was “essential” then it could avoid the obligation set forth by the ADA and the ADAAA that employers make reasonable accommodations. Samson v. Federal Express, 2014 WL 1226847.

As such, the Northern District Court determined that because material issues of fact exist concerning whether heavy lifting and climbing are “essential functions,” the employer’s summary judgment motion was precluded and the case was allowed to continue. Such decision is a critical victory allowing the man to challenge AT&T’s actions.

Disability discrimination cases can raise many complicated issues concerning your employer’s obligation to provide “reasonable accommodations.” As experienced Atlanta disability discrimination lawyers, we are dedicated to protecting you against all types of workplace discrimination. If you believe you may have suffered employment discrimination, please contact the knowledgeable Georgia disability discrimination lawyers at the Buckley Beal LLP for an immediate consultation.

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