Fourth Circuit Court
No. 06-2094, 2007 U.S. APP. LEXIS 21944
September 13, 2007
Keywords: definition of disability, employment, job restructuring, reasonable accommodation, transportation
Facts of the Case
Mr. Joseph P. Feagan, Ms. Lillie B. White, and Ms. Nellie M. Richards (“Plaintiffs”), worked as drivers for defendant Jaunt, Inc., a paratransit service. The three drivers had ailments that prevented them from being able to assist customers who use wheelchairs. In 2001, Jaunt instituted a new driver classification system which included Driver II (drivers with limitations) and Driver III (full service drivers) categories. Jaunt began requiring that all newly hired drivers meet Driver III criteria as evidenced by passing a physical test mimicking the stresses placed on drivers in service. Jaunt did not require the Plaintiffs to pass the test and did not assign them to serve customers in wheelchairs.
In 2004 Jaunt restructured its driver classification system to reduce expenses and inconveniences and improve customer service. Jaunt began requiring that all drivers be capable of assisting customers in wheelchairs, and gave all Driver II employees six months to pass the physical test or be laid off. Jaunt claims to have offered job placement assistance to drivers who were unable to pass the test. The Plaintiffs refused to take the test, were laid off, and brought suit under the ADA alleging disability-based discrimination. A federal district court in Virginia granted summary judgment in favor of Jaunt, and the Plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Issue of the Case
- Whether the plaintiffs were “qualified individuals” with a disability within the meaning of Title I of the ADA; whether they could perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation; and whether they requested reasonable accommodations.
Arguments & Analysis
Plaintiffs alleged that Jaunt regarded them as individuals with a disability and failed to provide accommodations, which led to their termination. Jaunt argued the Plaintiffs were not qualified individuals with disabilities, because they did not have disabilities that significantly limit them in a major life activity. Jaunt further contended that even if the Plaintiffs were individuals with disabilities under the ADA, assisting customers who use wheelchairs is an essential function of their job, and the ADA does not require that Jaunt excuse plaintiffs from performing that function.
The court concluded that where Jaunt did not believe the Plaintiffs were incapable of performing a broad range of jobs, Jaunt did not regard the Plaintiffs as individuals with a disability under the ADA. Then, applying the standard that a function is essential if it has more than a marginal relationship to the job, the court found that assisting customers in wheelchairs was essential for the job, because the “purpose of Jaunt’s existence is to provide transit to people with disabilities.”
The district court then considered whether the Plaintiffs could complete the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations. The district court noted the Plaintiffs did not request accommodations, but rather, that they be excused from performing of the essential function assisting customers in wheelchairs. Finally, the court held “the ADA does not require that employers alter job requirements to suit applicants or employees.”
The district court concluded the Plaintiffs were not qualified individuals with a disability and could not perform an essential job function with or without a reasonable accommodation. Where the plaintiffs were unable to perform an essential function, the ADA does not require the employer to alter the job requirements. Agreeing with the reasons set forth in the district court opinion, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court decision.
Policy & Practice
Where an employee with a disability is able to perform the essential functions of her/his job with a reasonable accommodation, the employee has the duty to suggest the accommodations to be made. If the employer does not believe the requested accommodation to be reasonable, s/he must be able to support that belief and then suggest alternative accommodations. If an employee cannot perform an essential job function with or without a reasonable accommodation, the employer does not have to eliminate the job function in order to accommodate the employee.
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Opinion – Feagan v. Jaunt [PDF file]
- U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Charlottesville Division Opinion – Feagan v. Jaunt [PDF file]
These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation. These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time. In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.