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Two Pound Lifting Restriction Enough to End Employment

Angela Tonyan sustained multiple injuries through her employment as a store manager at Dunham’s Athleisure Corporation (Dunham’s). Her injuries required several surgeries and temporary restrictions to movement in her shoulder, arm, and right hand. Ultimately, she could no longer lift over two pounds and reach forward or above her shoulder with her right arm. Dunham fired Tonyan because of her restrictions; she sued claiming violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As outlined in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling in this case, Dunham’s was a discount sporting goods retailer. To minimize costs, inventory was stacked to maximize space. Approximately half of the inventory was displayed at or about the shoulder height of the average employee. Stores were staffed carefully to ensure sufficient numbers to serve customers in correlation to the sales volume. The written store manager job descriptions (signed by Tonyan) identified physical labor as a key component of her job. Tonyan disputed the amount of physical labor her position required (10% v the 20-30% asserted by Dunham’s) and delegated much of the heavy lifting to other employees.

At issue before the court of appeals was whether physical movement and lifting were essential functions of her position. The court concluded that “[e]very consideration points to physical tasks as essential functions of Tonyan’s job.” Evidence submitted to the court showed that human resources had carefully created the descriptions based on research into managers’ experiences. Additionally, Dunham’s business model showed that physical labor by managers was integral, requiring extra costs or diminished customer service if a manager could not perform it. Tonyan was unable to provide support for her assertion that the job was not physically demanding. Throughout her surgeries and injuries, Tonyan had delegated her physical tasks to her staff. According to the Seventh Circuit, this delegation did not render the tasks non-essential. Because she was not able to perform the essential functions of her position, there was no violation of the ADA.