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Employee Cleared for Work May Still Be Disabled

Linda Rowlands was a 25-year employee at the United Parcel Service (UPS). She was injured many times while at work, including three knee injuries. Following her third knee injury, surgery, and subsequent leave to recover, Ms. Rowlands returned to work. She had been cleared by her doctor to return without restriction. She did, however, wear two knee braces with ice packs and elevated her knee whenever possible. According to Ms. Rowlands, she requested several accommodations for her knee such as receiving training on data entry and operating the forklift as well as being allowed to use the first-floor bathroom and asking for a hazardous cord to be replaced. None of her requests were granted. She was fired about four months after her return.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the appeal of her failure to accommodate claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The district court had dismissed that claim on the grounds that she could not be disabled because her doctor had cleared her without restriction.
A disability under the ADA has been defined as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” An impairment of a major life activity qualifies as a disability even if its “transitory and minor.”
Ms. Rowlands had argued that her knee injury substantially limited her ability to walk, stand, squat and kneel. Per the Seventh Circuit, Ms. Rowland’s assertion met the standard for claiming a disability. It was erroneous for UPS to conclude that she was not disabled solely because of her doctor’s note and it was not entitled to ignore her request for accommodations. UPS could have requested a doctor’s note to verify Ms. Rowland’s asserted impairments as part of the mandated interactive process. Ms. Rowland let UPS know of her limitations and it was incumbent upon the company to engage in the interactive process.