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Essential Job Duties Question of Fact for Jury

In a disability case where there was a conflict between the written job duties and credible evidence contradicting their accuracy, it was a question of fact for the jury.
Tony Gunter injured his shoulder while working for Bemis Company. He had surgery to repair the injury and then was released back to work with some restrictions. Mr. Gunter was temporarily precluded from reaching with his right arm and performing overhead work. He was accommodated. It then turned out that he would be restricted long-term from work with his right arm, could only lift “40 pounds occasionally and 20 pounds frequently from the floor to his waist, could lift up to 20 pounds occasionally from his waist to his chest, could not lift overhead, and could occasionally outstretch his right arm.” The company upon learning of these long-term restrictions placed him on leave and ultimately fired him because they could no longer accommodate him.
A jury returned a verdict in his favor and Bemis Company appealed to the Sixth Circuit. The employer argued it was not liable as a matter of law because Mr. Gunter could no longer perform the essential functions of his position which demanded lifting and reaching. The circuit court decided it appropriately been a question of fact for the jury because evidence was introduced showing that Bemis discouraged all employees from lifting over 40 pounds, that the company had lifting equipment, that co-workers often helped each other lift, and that his position did not need to do overhead work. The jury’s verdict was affirmed on this issue.