Courier avoids dismissal by suggesting leave as reasonable accommodation
Case name: Verrocchio v. Federal Express Corp., No. 3:09-cv-1376 (N.D.N.Y. 02/17/10).
Ruling: The U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York denied dismissal of an Americans with Disabilities Act and state contract suit by a former employee against Federal Express Corp.
What it means: Because businesses need their employees to be available for work to achieve their missions, indefinite leave is not a reasonable accommodation for an employee with an injury or disability. However, limited leave periods may be reasonable where they enable employees to recover and perform their essential functions and where it does not cause undue hardship for the employer.
Summary: A courier for Federal Express Corp. was rear-ended by another vehicle while performing his duties. He applied for workers' compensation and took medical leave. An independent medical examination determined he could not return to his regular job but could work a light-duty position. The courier's doctors stated he was unable to work at all. FedEx twice ordered the courier to return to work on temporary light duty, but he refused. FedEx discharged the courier. He sued under the ADA and state contract law. The District Court denied dismissal of the case. The court held that there was a question of fact whether the courier was a qualified employee because he presented medical documentation that he could return to work a few weeks after he was ordered to do so.
The court considered whether granting additional leave was a reasonable accommodation. Citing case law that indefinite leave was not a reasonable accommodation, the court noted other cases holding that an individual inquiry could find that additional leave could be a reasonable accommodation. Because a factual analysis was necessary, the court allowed the case to proceed.
As for the courier's contract claims, the court ruled that he adequately presented a plausible claim for breach of contract by indicating that FedEx's policies and handbook allowed employees to take up to 30 months of leave. Because the courier was discharged after only nine months, he argued that FedEx had breached its agreement. Noting that New York laws generally do not consider employee handbooks to create binding contracts, the court determined that there were questions of fact whether this one did and whether FedEx violated any agreement.
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May 10, 2010
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