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Court Reiterates That Employee Must be Qualified For ADA Violation

Janet Garrison was a full-time purchasing agent for the city of Tallahassee in Florida. As part of her job, she was required to work with various internal department representatives and interact with outside vendors who would pop into her office. She also conducted training sessions with vendors and served on vendor selection committees. A few years into her employment, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The city accommodated her by allowing her to dress down; letting her wear noise-cancelling headphones; relocating her office closer to the bathroom and her parking space closer to the entrance; and a modified work schedule. With these accommodations, Ms. Garrison still missed a fair amount of work such that her average weekly work time dropped down to 30 hours.

Seven years into her diagnosis, Ms. Garrison requested she be allowed to telecommute because of flare-ups in her condition. After considering her request, the city denied it because it considered full-time regular attendance an essential function of her job. They offered her the option to search for another position within the city for which she would be qualified.

Ms. Garrison sued the city, asserting that it had discriminated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that Ms. Garrison was not a qualified individual within the meaning of the ADA. To be qualified, she had to show that she could perform the essential functions of her position, with or without accommodation. City officials asserted that her physical presence was an essential function. Ms. Garrison testified that her job required that she speak regularly in person and over the phone with other departments and vendors. The court of appeals concluded that her presence was an essential function of her position. Ms. Garrison was unable to point to any other employee who had been permitted to telecommute. As she had no reasonable accommodation that would allow her to perform the essential functions of her job, she was not a qualified individual under the ADA.