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Prudent AT&T Prevails Against ADA Claim

Kristen Williams worked for AT&T’s call center in Memphis. She was responsible for answering calls related to technical support and billing. When any customer service representative took an unscheduled leave, those calls had to spread to the other representatives, which resulted in higher call loads and slower response time to customers. AT&T monitored all “unscheduled time away” via a point system. Eight or more points of unscheduled absence time over 12 months equaled unacceptable absenteeism. Approved leave such as FMLA, short-term disability (STD), and ADA accommodation was not included in the point system.

Ms. Williams missed a significant amount of work in 2013 due to depression. Much of the leave, but not all, was approved under FMLA and she was able to avoid termination. Her managers discussed the attendance policy with her in early 2014. She received a performance evaluation that marked her as not meeting expectations because of her “attendance and punctuality.” Thereafter, Ms. Williams missed some more days of work. She tried to have it covered by FMLA but she had not worked a sufficient amount of hours the previous year to qualify for it. She also tried to have it covered under STD and/or job accommodation but failed to provide sufficient medical information. After receiving a return-to-work letter, she did provide more medical information. Her return date was pushed back but she still did not return and was terminated.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld AT&T’s summary judgment. The ADA requires that employees must be able to perform the essential functions of their jobs with or without accommodation. Ms. Williams’ depression and anxiety were disabilities under the ADA, however she could not perform an essential function (attendance) of her position. Moreover, her proposed accommodation of breaks for her unpredictable attacks would not have solved her attendance problems. Her job history demonstrated that she could not work at all for long periods of time. The court also noted that indefinite leave was not required. As she was not a qualified individual under the ADA, her claim failed.