In this week's Alabama Law Weekly Update, we report on two cases from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The first case discusses the qualified individual standard under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the second case discusses the burden shifting analysis for claims asserted under Title VII.
Jamilia D. Jones v. Allstate Insurance Co., 2016 WL 4259753 (N.D. Ala. August 12, 2016).
Jamilia D. Jones (“Jones”) was employed as a claims specialist for Allstate Insurance Co. (“Allstate”). As a claims specialist for Allstate, one of the essential functions of Jones' position was answering customer phone calls. Jones suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a result, Allstate allowed Jones to take several five to ten minute breaks throughout the workday. When Allstate denied Jones' request for additional breaks, Jones claimed she was being discriminated against in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against a qualified individual on the basis of disability. Discrimination under the ADA can include the failure to make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an employee. A qualified individual is a person who can perform the essential functions of the employment position with or without reasonable accommodation. If a person cannot perform the essential functions of her job, even with an accommodation, then she is not a qualified individual under the ADA.
Jones argued that additional breaks would be a reasonable accommodation for her disability. Allstate claimed that Jones would not be able to perform the essential functions of her job if she was permitted to take additional breaks throughout the day. The court agreed with Allstate. The employee bears the burden both to identify the accommodation and to show that it is reasonable. However, the ADA does not require an employer to accommodate an employee in the manner she desires, so long as the accommodation it provides is reasonable. Because numerous and repeated breaks would prevent Jones from performing the essential functions of her job, she was not a qualified individual under the ADA. Jones' discrimination claim under the ADA was dismissed.
Jerry R. Long v. John McHugh, 2016 WL 4379430 (N.D. Ala. August 17, 2016).
Jerry Long (“Long”), an African-American male, was employed as a sandblaster at the Anniston Army Depot in Anniston, Alabama. In early 2012, the Army Depot performed an institution wide analysis to determine the institution's projected workload and the number of employees needed to perform that workload for the next fiscal year. The analysis indicated that the Army Depot was overstaffed with sandblasters. In April 2012, the Army Depot informed Long, and three other sandblasters, that their employment would be terminated on April 30, 2012. Shortly thereafter, several of the soon-to-be terminated sandblasters began to shirk their responsibilities creating a backlog of sandblasting work for Long. The Army Depot assigned eight Caucasian mechanics to assist Long in addressing the backlog of sandblasting work. After Long's employment was terminated, the Army Depot replaced Long with one of the Caucasian mechanics. Long sued John McHugh, Secretary of the Army, for racial discrimination in violation of Title VII.
To make out a case of discrimination based on disparate treatment in termination under Title VII, a plaintiff must show the following: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was qualified for the position; and (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) he was replaced by a person outside his protected class. If the plaintiff establishes a case, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its adverse action. Once the employer does so, the plaintiff has the opportunity to show that the employer's stated reason was pretext for retaliation.
The court determined that Long established a case of discrimination under Title VII but that the Army Depot had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating Long's employment. The court found that the workload decrease made evident by the workload projection analysis was a legitimate reason for its decision to terminate Long and several other sandblasters. The court also found that the Army Depot's decision to retain the Caucasian mechanic was based on a legitimate non-discriminatory reason. Because Long could not produce any evidence that the Army Depot's explanation was merely pretext for discrimination, Long's Title VII discrimination claim was dismissed.