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Extended Leaves May Be Reasonable Accommodation

Corinna Ruiz fell and broke her ankle. Per her doctor’s notes, she was temporarily disabled from November 16, 2016, through February 22, 2016. Her employer, ParadigmWorks Group Inc. (PGI), placed her on unpaid leave for that time. When her physician provided another note on February 18 that extended the period of her disability through April 1, 2016, PGI terminated her employment. Ruiz sued PGI for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. A federal district court dismissed her claims after PGI filed for summary judgment.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a nonprecedential opinion, revived Ruiz’ claims. Citing previous circuit precedent, the court noted that “an extended leave, or an extension of an existing leave period, may be a reasonable accommodation if it does not pose an undue hardship on the employer.” Under the court’s analysis of the facts, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Ruiz’s request for additional time was a reasonable accommodation. Here, Ruiz’s doctor added a finite five weeks to her recovery. Noting both that the repeated extension of a leave does not necessarily mean it is indefinite and the fact that a broken ankle is generally an injury from which people fully recover, the court determined that her request for additional leave may be reasonable. Ruiz only had to show that the additional leave of absence could have allowed her to perform her position at its conclusion. The request for an additional five weeks was not unreasonable as a matter of law. PGI could address whether such leave was an undue hardship when the matter was returned to the district court.