Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), an employee is entitled to a reasonable accommodation if the employee has a disability and is a “qualified individual,” meaning that the employee can perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation. When assessing an employee’s request for an accommodation under the ADA, employers often reference the job description to identify the “essential functions” of the position. A recent federal court decision, however, serves as a reminder that the actual job duties—not those listed in the job description—are controlling and that reliance on the job description alone may not carry the day.
In 2015, Mary Wiggins (“Wiggins”) a long-time employee of the City of Montgomery, Alabama (“the City”) applied for a promotion to the position of Revenue Examiner. The job posting and the job description both indicated that the “[w]ork involves inspecting premises … for violations and verifications” and that the “[w]ork is performed primarily in the field…which may involve working in inclement weather, visiting construction sites, climbing stairs, walking over rough terrain…etc.” Wiggins had significant knee problems that would have prevented her from carrying out the site inspection duties but applied anyway, seeking a position as an “Inside Examiner.” The City denied Wiggins’ application and promoted three other candidates to fill its vacant Revenue Examiner positions. Wiggins sued, claiming, among other things, that the City discriminated against her, when it failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation. The City moved for summary judgment arguing that based on the job description Wiggins was not a “qualified individual” under the ADA. The court denied summary judgment because the evidence suggested that conducting site visits was not as “essential” as the job description and job posting indicated. Two of the individuals promoted instead of Wiggins had not conducted a single site visit or even left the office for field duty during their first 11 months in the position. The Court determined that a jury must determine whether Wiggins could have performed the essential functions of the Revenue Examiner position with a reasonable accommodation (i.e. no site visits) and, therefore, was a qualified individual under the ADA. Employers should regularly review and update job descriptions to ensure they accurately reflect the essential functions of the position and when considering an accommodation request, employers cannot rely on the job description alone. The decision is Wiggins v. City of Montgomery, C.A. No. 2:17-cv-425 (M.D. Al. Sept. 20, 2019)