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An Illinois police detective who resigned after having two strokes had no Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim based on his employer’s alleged failure to accommodate by not granting him light duty after his first stroke, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.
Mark Swanson worked as a detective for the village of Flossmoor. On July 31, 2009, Swanson suffered a stroke and went out on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). When he returned to work on August 19, 2009, he presented a note from his doctor, which read: “part-time work suggested” until a scheduled follow-up appointment. The village allowed Swanson to work three days per week and use accrued medical leave to cover the remaining two work days so that he would continue receiving a full paycheck.
Swanson began experiencing headaches and lightheadedness the following month, at which point he asked his supervisor for light duty. Swanson’s supervisor informed him that the police department had no light duty policy and denied the request. Swanson continued his reduced schedule arrangement until Sept. 30, 2009, when he suffered a second stroke. The village approved Swanson’s subsequent FMLA request. However, Swanson was unable to return to work due to additional medical issues, and ultimately submitted his resignation in December 2009, noting he was “simply physically unable to return to [his] duties within the department.”
Swanson filed a complaint against the village alleging failure to accommodate in violation of the ADA and national origin harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Swanson claimed that, during the course of his employment, his supervisor and co-workers made various derogatory comments about his Puerto Rican descent.
The district court awarded summary judgment to the village on Swanson’s failure to accommodate claim because it determined that the village had accommodated Swanson following his first stroke by allowing him to work the reduced schedule as requested by his doctor. In addition, the district court awarded summary judgment to the village on Swanson’s Title VII claim because Swanson did not timely file his charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding those allegations.
The 7th Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that Swanson’s ADA claim was deficient because the village accommodated Swanson by allowing him to work a part-time schedule as recommended by his doctor. The court disregarded Swanson’s argument that the village failed to engage in the interactive accommodation process by refusing his light duty request, noting that Swanson’s doctor never recommended light duty, and stating that the “ADA does not entitle a disabled employee to the accommodation of his choice.” According to the court, “the village’s accommodation (and, frankly, its general treatment of [the plaintiff] in the wake of his medical issues) seems quite reasonable here.” The court further affirmed summary judgment regarding the Title VII claim based on the fact that it was time-barred.
Swanson v. Village of Flossmoor, 7th Cir., No. 14-3309 (July 24, 2015).
Professional Pointer: While the court found no error here, employers should not dismiss an employee’s accommodation request, even when an accommodation is already in place. When an employee comes in with a request for an accommodation, a company should engage in the interactive process and consider each accommodation request on its own merits. Otherwise, the employer risks running afoul of the EEOC guidance and ADA requirements regarding reasonable accommodations.
Taylor N. Rollinson and Jennifer L. Colvin are attorneys in the Chicago office of Ogletree Deakins, a labor and employment law firm representing management.
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