Jane Harris was a Ford steel resale buyer. In this capacity, she served as an intermediary between steel suppliers and parts suppliers, a job description that required a large amount of “good, old-fashioned interpersonal skills” as the court put it.
She also suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, which at best caused her to take frequent trips to the restroom, and at worst caused her to miss whole days of work due to incontinence. Initially, Ford adjusted her schedule to allow for occasionally telecommuting and flexible schedules, but neither option was sufficient. While Ford allowed some employees to work from home one day a week, Harris sought to do so up to four days a week.
It is worth noting that while employed at Ford, Harris’ performance was, as the court put it, “subpar.” She ranked in the bottom 10% of her peers repeatedly, averaged 1.5 missed days of work per week, and was noted as lacking interpersonal and communication skills. In fact, in 2009 she was absent more than she was present.
Following attempts to accommodate her condition and repeated poor reviews, Harris was eventually terminated on September 10, 2009. Four months later, the EEOC sued Ford under the ADA, alleging that Ford failed to reasonably accommodate Harris’ disability and terminated her in retaliation. The district court found that working from home for up to four days a week was not a reasonable accommodation and that Harris’ poor performance was a valid reason for terminating her. The EEOC appealed, and a divided Sixth Circuit panel reversed on both claims in 2014. The Sixth Circuit then granted an en banc review.
Ultimately, the Sixth Circuit Court held that Ford acted reasonably and did not violate the ADA by denying the requested accommodations. The court noted that regular and predicable attendance at the workplace was an essential function of her job, and was a prerequisite to other essential functions. Furthermore, Ford had made attempts to accommodate Harris previously, without success. Finally, the court stated that the EEOC failed to show that Harris’ termination was due to retaliation and not due to her poor workplace performance.