A female employee’s request to work from home during the final ten weeks of her pregnancy due to bedrest orders was a “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.
The federal appeals court’s decision in Mosby-Meachem v Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division affirmed a jury verdict for the employee of more than $110,000, including compensatory damages and back pay.
Notably, the ruling comes three years after the 6th Circuit’s controversial decision in EEOC v Ford Motor Co. In that case, an en banc 6th Circuit held that telecommuting is not a reasonable accommodation unless an employee shows that regular attendance in the workplace and face-to-face interaction are not essential elements of the job.
The plaintiff in Mosby-Meachem was an in-house attorney for Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division (MLG&W). The plaintiff’s supervisor had a written policy that required on-site attendance for employees. Despite this policy, some employees still worked from home. In fact, at one point during her tenure at MLG&W, the plaintiff telecommuted for two weeks while recovering from surgery, without any repercussions from MLG&W.
After suffering three miscarriages and becoming pregnant for the fourth time, the plaintiff began having complications. The plaintiff’s doctors placed her on bed rest for the final ten weeks of her pregnancy. When the plaintiff requested an accommodation to work from home during those ten weeks, MLG&W’s ADA Committee denied her request.
The plaintiff sued MLG&W for discrimination. A federal jury in Memphis, Tenn. found that MLG&W violated the ADA by denying the plaintiff’s reasonable request to telecommute. The jury awarded the plaintiff $92,000 in compensatory damages and $18,184.32 in back pay.
MLG&W appealed, arguing the jury did not have a sufficient basis to find that the plaintiff could perform all her essential job functions from home. The 6th Circuit disagreed and affirmed the jury verdict.
According to the 6th Circuit, the plaintiff’s evidence of discrimination “undermined” the evidence presented by MLG&W and “independently supported” the jury’s conclusion that she could perform the essential functions of her job remotely for ten weeks. The appeals court emphasized that several MLG&W employees, as well as outside counsel who worked with the plaintiff, testified they believed she could perform all her essential job functions from home.
Addressing its 2015 ruling in EEOC v Ford Motor Co, the 6th Circuit said that decision did not expressly preclude teleworking in all cases, particularly for a “finite period of time,” such as the two-and-a-half months that the plaintiff had requested in this case. “[A] jury could have reasonably concluded from the evidence presented at trial that [the plaintiff] could perform all the essential functions of her job remotely for ten weeks,” the appeals court said.
The 6th Circuit also denied MLG&W’s request for a new trial. Given the evidence supporting the plaintiff’s claim, the appeals court said the lower court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the jury’s verdict was not contrary to the weight of the evidence.
In addition, MLG&W claimed the plaintiff was not entitled to back pay because her law license had been briefly suspended and she was “unqualified” to perform the functions of her job. The 6th Circuit rejected this argument, pointing out it was undisputed that, had MLG&W not denied the plaintiff’s requested accommodation, she would have received her full pay for work performed. In so finding, the 6th Circuit emphasized that the possible unlicensed practice of law issue is for the Tennessee Bar to handle, and not the judiciary.
The attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Employment Discrimination Group are experienced and knowledgeable in all aspects of employee rights under the ADA and Family & Medical Leave Act. If you suspect that you have been unjustly treated for seeking a reasonable work accommodation, contact us today to learn how we can help.