A warehouse technician who suffered from Type I diabetes filed a lawsuit against his employer claiming discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act (“NFEPA”) for the employer’s refusal to grant his request to work a straight shift schedule. Rehrs v. The IAMS COMPANY, et al., No. 06-1609 (8th Cir., May 15, 2007).
P&G, the defendant-employer, implemented a rotating-shift schedule, which consists of two daily twelve-hour shifts, for all warehouse technicians. The employee worked the rotating shift from January 2000 to February 2002 when he suffered a heat attack. In September of 2003, one month after the employee went back to work, his doctor submitted a letter to P&G and requested that the employee be placed on a fixed daytime schedule because his medical conditions from his diabetes had become difficult to control. P&G granted the employee’s request for working a straight eight-hour shift as a temporary accommodation but informed the employee that it would not continue accommodating the employee permanently because shift rotation was an essential part of his job. When the employee’s temporary accommodation was about to expire, P&G encouraged him to apply for a straight shift sanitation position. The employee declined P&G’s offer and applied for temporary partial disability leave. During the employee’s disability leave, P&G sent him notices of other vacant fixed schedule day-shift jobs. In March 2005, one month after the employee’s doctor declared that the employee was totally incapable of working, P&G outsourced the operation of its Aurora facility to Excel, which operates the facility using a straight-shift schedule. When P&G refused to grant the employee’s request for accommodation to work a straight shift schedule, the employee filed a lawsuit against P&G claiming discrimination under the ADA and NFEPA.
The Court agreed with P&G’s argument that shift rotation was essential function of the employee’s position at the Aurora facility during the relevant period because all P&G subsidiaries operated under the system of which shift rotation was the system’s component. The Court accepted P&G’s contention that not implementing shift rotation for all warehouse technicians would harm P&G from a production standpoint and that the allowance of an employee to work a straight shift would undermine the team concept. P&G went on to claim that non-enforcement of shift rotation would adversely affect other technicians by forcing them to work the night shift exclusively or for longer periods and thus decreases other technicians’ opportunities for promotion and development. The Court considered all of the above claims and agreed that shifting rotation in the P&G work culture was an essential function of working as a warehouse technician. Therefore, the Court held that P&G’s generally applicable requirement of shift rotation to all employees in the employee-plaintiff’s position was not discriminatory under the ADA and NFEPA.