In this week’s Alabama Law Weekly Update, we report on two employment law cases from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The first case discusses allegations of retaliation under the FMLA. The second case discusses reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities under the ADA.

Coleman v. Redmond Park Hospital, LLC, 2014 WL 5373699 (11th Cir. Oct. 23, 2014) (discussing allegations of retaliation under the FMLA).

Melissa Coleman (“Coleman”) worked as an intensive care nurse at Redmond Park Hospital, LLC (“Redmond”) from 2002 to 2010. Coleman left Redmond in 2010 and began working for a different hospital. During her employment with the other hospital, Coleman took leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). In 2012, Coleman applied for several intensive care nurse positions with Redmond, but she was not interviewed for any of them. Coleman sued Redmond under the FMLA. Coleman claimed that Redmond retaliated against her when it chose not to rehire her after learning that she had taken FMLA leave during her previous employment.

Redmond claimed that it did not hire Coleman because she contacted Redmond’s clinical nursing recruiter and left him a profanity-laced voicemail. Coleman admitted that she contacted the recruiter to inquire about the status of her application but denied using any profanity. The trial court granted summary judgment for Redmond. Coleman appealed.

The FMLA grants private employees periods of leave for certain family or health-related events. The FMLA prohibits interference or retaliation against an employee for exercising rights under the Act. The enforcement provision of the FMLA provides that any employee may sue her employer for damages or equitable relief, for or on behalf of the employee or other employees similarly situated. Under Eleventh Circuit precedent, a former employee who alleges that her former employer refused to rehire her based on her past use of FMLA qualifies as an “employee” under the enforcement provision of the Act. The Court explained, “if [a plaintiff] proves that his past use of FMLA leave was a motivating factor in [the employer’s] refusal to rehire him,” then that employee has a cause of action under the FMLA.

The Eleventh Circuit concluded that Coleman provided sufficient evidence to establish a factual dispute concerning the content of disputed voicemail. As such, the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Redmond was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Rabb v. School Board of Orange County, Florida, 2014 WL 5369020 (11th Cir. Oct. 23, 2014) (discussing reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities under the ADA).

Cynthia Rabb (“Rabb”) was employed as a fifth grade teacher at Winegard Elementary School (“Winegard”). Rabb had previously suffered two strokes but was able to return to full-time teaching after each one. As a full-time teacher, Rabb was required to be able to communicate effectively both orally and in writing, to manage her classroom and supervise students, to work 196 days per year for seven hours a day in the classroom, and to stay after school to prepare lesson plans, grade assignments, and conduct parent conferences.

After suffering a third stroke in 2008, Rabb began to experience reduced physical stamina and difficulty communicating. Rabb’s doctor released Rabb to work part-time, twenty hours per week, with small groups of children in short, one hour sessions. Rabb worked part-time at Winegard for approximately two years following her third stroke. Rabb’s part-time tutoring position was created specifically for her benefit while she rehabilitated. The part-time position was not considered permanent. When the part-time position was eliminated due to budget constraints due in 2012, Rabb sued the School Board under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Rabb claimed that the School Board failed to reasonably accommodate her disability by offering her a part-time teaching position. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the School Board because Rabb failed to show that she was a “qualified individual” under the ADA. Rabb appealed.

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. 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. Reasonable accommodation can include part-time work. But, an employer has no duty to create a part-time position where such positions have previously been eliminated by the employer.

On appeal, both parties agreed that Rabb could not perform the functions of a full time teacher without accommodation. The only issue was whether Rabb presented sufficient evidence of a reasonable accommodation that would allow her to perform the essential functions of the full-time teaching position. Rabb claimed that allowing her to work part-time was a reasonable accommodation.

The Eleventh Circuit disagreed. Under applicable law, a part-time position that does not exist is not a reasonable accommodation because the ADA does not require employers to create a part-time position to accommodate an employee’s disability. Moreover, prior accommodations do not make an accommodation reasonable. The Court explained, “[a]n employer that bends over backwards to accommodate a disabled worker … must not be punished for its generosity by being deemed to have conceded the reasonableness of so far-reaching an accommodation.” The Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the School Board.