The employer, in this case, was a large business that operated its customer support call center in Memphis. One of its customer service representatives (CSR) was a woman with depression and anxiety issues. After being denied an accommodation relating to her attendance, she filed a lawsuit claiming disability discrimination. However, the court determined that her request for accommodation, in this case, was not reasonable and her employer was not required to provide it.
The ADA provides for reasonable accommodations
In addition to prohibiting discrimination, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees known to have a disability. A reasonable accommodation is basically an adjustment or modification an employer provides to enable individuals with disabilities to have equal employment opportunities. Of course, accommodations vary depending on what each individual needs, and not all individuals with disabilities will need the same accommodations.
Attendance issues due to disability
The employee, in this case, suffered from depression and anxiety attacks which affected her work as a customer service representative. She had received numerous warnings about her attendance from 2007-2014. Since the employee used FMLA leave and short-term disability to cover her absences, her employer did not take action against her. However, she was absent from July 3 to April 9 of 2014, her employer terminated her for her absences.
Claims of disability discrimination
The employee argued in her lawsuit that her employer refused to accommodate her disability. Specifically, she states that they could have provided her with a more flexible schedule and allowed her to take more frequent breaks during her 8-hour shifts. Doing so would allow her to better handle her anxiety attacks. However, it is crucial that the employee is able to demonstrate that, with the accommodation, she is still able to perform her job duties. If that is not the case, then the employer is under no obligation to retain the employee.
Customer Service Rep was still unable to do her job
The primary defense raised by the employer, in this case, was that the customer service rep was not able to do her job, even with the accommodation. First, regular attendance was an essential job function for all customer service reps because absences result in longer hold times for customers, as well as heavier workloads and lower morale for other employees who are present at work.
In this case, particularly, the employee requested 10-minute breaks every two hours. Yet, based on her own testimony, her anxiety issues required her to take a break every time she got off of an especially stressful call with a customer. As a result, the pre-
scheduled 10-minute breaks would not actually help her with her anxiety attacks, which would likely occur randomly at unplanned intervals. Ultimately, even if the requested accommodation was provided, the customer service rep would not be qualified to perform the essential functions of her job.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.