By David E. Worley
In Wardia v. Justice & Pub. Safety Cabinet Dep’t of Juvenile Justice, (27 AD Case 385 (6th Cir. 2013), the Sixth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals granted summary judgment on a failure to accommodate claim of a former juvenile detention worker who was physically unable to perform a restraint on an inmate. Because the ability to physically restrain, while rarely used, is an essential function of the job, the plaintiff’s request to have other more physically capable employees perform restrains, the court ruled, was unreasonable. Further, the plaintiff’s request to be put on a light duty monitoring position, the court concluded, was unreasonable, as that position is rotating and temporary, and the ADA does not require converting a temporary position to a permanent one for the sake of accommodating a disability.
The plaintiff here suffered an injury unrelated to his employment, but which made him permanently disabled. As a temporary accommodation, he was placed on light duty, but once the employer learned that his disability was permanent, he was dismissed.
Initially, the plaintiff argued that the ability to physically restrain an inmate was not an essential function because it was rarely needed. This argument obviously failed, as Wardia even agreed that the need to use physical restraint may arise on a daily basis.
The plaintiff then argued that his position on light duty should be a permanent accommodation, and if that is not possible, then he should have another employee with him during his shift who could perform a physical restraint. The court was unpersuaded.
Wardia’s first proposal, working with assistance to perform restraints, is not reasonable because “the ADA does not require employers to accommodate individuals by shifting an essential job function onto others.” Wardia’s second proposal, permanent assignment to the control room, is not reasonable because employers cannot be required to convert either rotating or temporary positions into permanent positions.
The control room position was a rotating position that allowed a low-stress environment for workers to be relieved of the duties of dealing with juveniles. To allow Wardia to hold the position permanently would therefore deprive all other officers of a much-needed rest time. Although Wardia was assigned to the control room as a temporary measure, there is no requirement under the ADA to make a temporary position permanent:
It is true that on a longer-term basis, the control room has also been used as a light-duty alternative for injured workers who cannot safely interact with juveniles, instead of as a rotating position. Wardia suggests that since he was able to work in the control room without incident for over a year, it cannot be unreasonable to allow him to continue in this position. But as Hoskins explained, “temporary light-duty positions for recuperating employees” need not be converted into permanent positions. To do otherwise would actually frustrate the purposes of the ADA: if employers are locked into extending temporary positions for injured workers on a permanent basis (whether initially granted consistent with company policy or as a well-intentioned special arrangement), they might well be less inclined to permit such an arrangement in the first place.