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Sixth Circuit Decision Offers Practical Guidance on Accommodating Disabled Employees

Determining how to reasonably accommodate an employee with a disability can be difficult for employers.  The Sixth Circuit’s decision in Kempter v. Michigan Bell Telephone Co., et al. affirms common-sense law – namely, that in reasonably accommodating a disabled employee, employers are not required to convert temporary light-duty work into a full-time position, reassign a disabled employee to a position he/she is not qualified for, or which would displace another employee’s rights, or create a new position. 

In its ruling, the Court affirmed the District Court decision rejecting the employee’s disability discrimination claim, finding that carpal tunnel syndrome was not a disability under the ADA and alternately, that the employee’s requested accommodations were unreasonable and unsupported by the facts.  The Court also imposed sanctions against the employee’s attorney for prosecuting a frivolous appeal. 

The Sixth Circuit flatly rejected the employee’s argument that her employer failed to accommodate her carpal tunnel syndrome, as none of the employee’s proposed accommodations were reasonable.  Contrary to the employee’s argument, the employer was not required to convert a temporary light-duty position for recuperating employees into a permanent position. The Court also rejected the employee’s claim that there was a vacant position which opened up shortly after the employee’s termination that she could have filled.  The recently filled position mandated typing, so the employee was simply not qualified to perform the job.  In addition, filling that position with the employee would have violated another employee’s rights under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Finally, the Court rejected the employee’s argument that there was an open position she could have filled, because employers are not required to create new positions or resurrect old positions. 

The full opinion is available here

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