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Employer Must Show That Kidney Transplant Recipient Could Not Have Been Accommodated

Michael Fisher was a production technician in a Nissan North America factory. Over his ten years of employment, he consistently received positive performance evaluations with a few minor disciplinary issues.
Over the tenure of his employment, Fisher’s kidney function had worsened, requiring him to ask for an easier position. His supervisor told him, “You need to go on, go on out.” Fisher went on extended leave. He ended up having a kidney transplant. The transplant caused him to be easily fatigued, and the anti-rejection medication caused severe flu-like symptoms. Fisher’s doctor advised him it could take a year to adjust to the medication. As his leave was running out, Fisher’s supervisor notified him that his leave could not be extended, and he had to return to work with no restrictions. His doctor agreed to clear him.
When Fisher returned to work, he asked for and was placed in what he believed to be an easier position but it ended up being more difficult. His requests for extra-breaks or to work half-time were rejected. His supervisor’s response to his request for a transfer was noncommittal. After being granted and taking extra leave, Fisher returned to his old position but had to miss work for doctor’s appointments and kidney issues. Each time, he met with supervisors, discussed his transplant and need for accommodation. He was allegedly told that a new position would not help because he kept missing work. After his final warning, he left and never came back.
Before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, Nissan argued that Fisher’s absences made him unqualified for his position. The court disagreed, finding that the kidney-related absences did not automatically make him unqualified. The key question was whether “those absences could have been avoided with reasonable accommodation?” Fisher asserted he had requested transfers, even pointing to a couple of specific positions that he believed would work, but Nissan was not responsive. Nissan did not attempt to show that the transfer requests were an undue hardship, instead relying on the fact that Fisher’s one transfer was unsuccessful. The court concluded that the prior attempt to accommodate had “no bearing on whether a subsequent transfer request was unreasonable.” Fisher’s case will proceed.