In Faidley v. UPS, the 8th Circuit reversed a summary judgment dismissal of disability discrimination allegations raised under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In Faidley, a delivery driver for UPS sustained multiple back injuries that resulted in ongoing physical restrictions These restrictions precluded him from returning to his regular job. He requested a disability accommodation under the ADA (and Iowa Civil Rights Act). He asked for shorter delivery shifts or a less physically demanding job. A feeder driver job was considered. However, because no feeder driver jobs were open at the time, UPS did not offer this option to him. UPS instead offered him a part-time job. This new job would have caused a reduction in Faidley's seniority. He declined the job. In 2012, he sued for disability discrimination. (He later filed a 2013 claim based on subsequent allegations and circumstances. That was dismissed. That dismissal was affirmed by the 8th Circuit and will not be discussed in this article.)
Faidley’s 2012 claims were dismissed on summary judgment on the basis he failed to establish questions of material fact supporting the necessary elements of discrimination. In other words, the court found he would not be able to prove his claim at a trial. He appealed.
The 8th Circuit reversed. In doing so, the 8th Circuit concluded that Faidley had established questions of material fact regarding the feeder driver job. The 8th circuit discusses that the law required UPS to consider jobs that an employer “reasonably anticipates will become vacant in the fairly immediate future.” Therefore, the actual unavailability of the feeder driver position was irrelevant for the purposes of summary judgment. As a result, there was a question of fact regarding UPS’ accommodation process. And because Faidley was offered a different job contingent on sacrificing his seniority, he allegedly sustained harm from the alleged discrimination.
The 8th Circuit reversed the summary judgment dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings. Unless the case is appealed further, the case will return to the trial judge for further proceedings including a trial with factual findings.
What does this mean for employers?
Faidley represents that the unavailability of a particular job does not necessarily relieve an employer from the obligation of offering that job as part of the accommodation process, even if the employer offers an alternate accommodation. This could create greater complexities for employers who are generating options for accommodating disabilities. Employers are encouraged to consult with legal counsel when exploring accommodations in order to minimize their legal risk.