In Richardson v. Friendly Ice Cream Corporation, the First Circuit affirmed a District Court ruling that an employee was not discharged in violation of the ADA because the employee was incapable of performing the essential functions of her position with or without a reasonable accommodation.

Katharine Richardson, an assistant manager at one of the Friendly Ice Cream Corporation’s (Friendly’s) restaurants in Maine, injured her shoulder at work and took a leave of absence under the FMLA to undergo shoulder surgery. After the surgery, she informed Friendly’s that her condition prohibited her from performing repetitive activity with her right arm and from lifting objects weighing more than five pounds. Friendly’s terminated Richardson’s employment, stating that she had remained on leave beyond the time permitted under the company’s FMLA policy.

Following her termination, Richardson first filed a charge of discrimination with the Maine Human Rights Commission and the EEOC, and then filed suit in District Court, alleging that Friendly’s discharged her because of her disability.

In view of the trial court’s decision to dismiss Richardson’s claim, the First Circuit held that she was not qualified for her position at the time of her discharge. Since it was undisputed that Richardson was disabled, the First Circuit’s analysis focused on whether she would be able to perform the essential functions of her position with or without accommodation. The Court rejected Richardson’s argument that her only essential function involved overseeing the operation of the restaurant. Instead, after reviewing a job description for the assistant manager position and testimony about the tasks Richardson had performed in that position, the Court concluded that Richardson’s essential functions also included assisting in kitchen, dining, and take-out operations, all of which required performing a number of predominantly manual tasks.

The Court next examined whether Richardson could complete these essential functions without a reasonable accommodation. The Court concluded that even though Richardson could do some manual tasks using her left arm only, without a reasonable accommodation the number of fundamental tasks Richardson could not execute would prevent her from fulfilling her necessary operational duties effectively.

Finally, the Court considered whether Richardson could sufficiently carry out her job with a reasonable accommodation. Richardson argued that as a reasonable accommodation, she could delegate her manual tasks to other restaurant employees. The Court rejected this proposed accommodation, stating that if Richardson were to delegate her numerous tasks of this sort, she would “no longer be performing her essential function of physically assisting with the restaurant’s operations.”

This decision elucidates the analytical process courts use to determine whether an employee can perform the essential functions of his or her job with or without an accommodation. When evaluating employee requests for accommodation, employers may find it helpful to refer to the factors leading to the Court’s ruling in this case.