In a potentially far reaching decision, a trucking depot manager’s sudden inability to drive a truck due to an eye injury, despite being a rare job requirement, made the employee unable to perform an “essential” function of the job under the ADA, and therefore justified his termination.
Plaintiff was a Location General Manager of a depot for a company that delivers frozen food to end-user customers at home or work who “excelled in this position.” Although he rarely was required to drive a truck, his written job description nonetheless stated that a Manager “[m]ust meet the Federal Department of Transportation eligibility requirements, including appropriate driver’s license and corresponding medical certification as a condition of employment for this position.”
In 2008 he suffered a severe eye injury, and was fired because he failed to obtain medical clearance to be a driver. Federal law provides that “Any driver whose ability to perform his/her normal duties has been impaired by a physical or mental injury” must be “medically examined and certified.”
The manager contended that driving a truck was not an essential function of his job but a very rare one, and noted that he ran the company depot as well as before for nine months after his eye injury without having to drive a truck.
A federal court disagreed, stating that “assuming, without deciding, that he was disabled, he was not qualified to perform an essential function of his job.” Despite plaintiff’s argument that in actuality he rarely was required to drive, the Court found that his “specific personal experience is of no consequence in the essential functions equation,” but, rather, “it is the written job description, the employer’s judgment, and the experience and expectations of all [Managers] generally [that] establish the essential functions of the job.”
Counsel for the company said that “The fact plaintiff was fortunate enough to not have to drive during the 15 months preceding his termination did not make his ability to drive any less essential.”
This decision is an interesting push back by a relatively conservative court, with interesting possible consequences. Should or can an employer write up a very broad job description for a particular position or one that encompasses every possible task, no matter how small or insignificant, in an effort to make every such task "essential?" This decision might be an inducement to employers to do that, it would seem. If plaintiff did not have to drive for 15 months, but the company’s claim was that in an emergency he would have to, is there any job function that would not fit that criteria?