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Even Temporary Indefinite Leave Fails ADA Standards

Mr. Billups injured his shoulder while working at Emerald Coast Utilities Authority. The lifting, pulling, and pushing required by his position were not possible with the injury, so he took leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). His shoulder surgery, delayed through no fault of Mr. Billups, took place a month after the end of his FMLA leave. Company policy allowed 26 weeks of leave for an employee to recover from a workplace injury. Mr. Billups took the entire 26 weeks to recuperate. While his doctor was confident that Mr. Billups would ultimately be able to return to work without restrictions, the exact date that would be possible was uncertain. At the conclusion of the 26 weeks, he was advised by Emerald Coast that he would be terminated because he could not perform the essential functions of his position. Mr. Billups sued, claiming violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Mr. Billups. An employee must be able to perform the essential functions of the job “presently or in the immediate future” under the ADA. Mr. Billups could not perform the essential functions of his position with or without accommodation at the time of his termination. A leave of absence to work at some indefinite point in the future did not qualify as a reasonable accommodation. He was still receiving physical therapy and it was not clear exactly when he would be ready for his job. The uncertainty of when Mr. Billups could return prevented him from establishing that he was denied a reasonable accommodation.