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Employer Can’t Just Say Full-Time Employment Essential Function

According to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, it was not enough for an employer to define a position as necessitating full-time employment. The employer must also be able to demonstrate why it was essential.
Heidi Hostettler, an HR Generalist for the College of Wooster, went out on maternity leave following the birth of her child. When it was time for her to return, Ms. Hostettler let the College know that she was unable to return full time. She was suffering from severe post-partum depression and separation anxiety; she provided a physician’s note substantiating the severity of her medical issues. The College of Wooster allowed her to work for two months on a reduced schedule and then fired her because she was “unable to return to her assigned position…in a full-time capacity.”
In the subsequent lawsuit alleging violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the College of Wooster stated that full-time attendance was an essential function of the HR Generalist position. The school also argued that Ms. Hostettler’s post-partum depression did not qualify as a disability. The Sixth Circuit disagreed with both of the College’s contentions. With regard to whether her post-partum depression and separation anxiety qualified as a disability, the appellate court found clear evidence that it did. Next, Ms. Hostettler was able to show that the department was running smoothly and she performed all of her core duties while working part-time. Thus, the College’s assertion that working full-time was essential was insufficient. The court held that an employer must also show why an employee is needed on a full-time basis.