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Seventh Circuit Reiterates Inability to Work Not Protected by ADA

Paula McAllister worked as an assembly worker for Innovation Ventures, LLC (Innovation). Two years into her employment, a car accident left her with serious back and head injuries. Following surgery for those injuries, McAllister applied for medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. In a note, her doctor said she was unable to perform any job functions. McAllister continued to be examined by her doctors during her leave, and they kept pushing back the date when she might be able to return. When her FMLA leave expired, McAllister’s doctors still did not release her for work. Innovation’s human resources department let her know that company policy required her termination if she remained on leave longer than six months. When six months passed, and McAllister’s doctors advised the company she would need at least another two to three months, the company terminated her.

McAllister filed suit against Innovation, claiming the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She argued Innovation failed to engage in the ADA’s required interactive process to accommodate her disability. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her argument, finding McAllister could not establish she was a “qualified individual” entitled to protection under the ADA. To receive ADA protection, the employee must be “qualified” for the position, in that the employee is able to perform the essential functions of the position. Because McAllister’s doctors asserted she could not work in any capacity, there was no reason for the company to engage in the interactive process. The circuit court relied on its own precedent in rejecting McAllister’s assertion that extended leave was a reasonable accommodation. The four months of leave requested by McAllister, plus the two and a half months she already used, was “plainly not a reasonable accommodation,” according to the court. The ADA does not require employers to excuse an employee’s inability to work.