We previously reported on a decision by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Equal Opportunity Employment Commission v. Ford Motor Co., in which the panel held that the EEOC was entitled to a jury trial on its claim that Ford discharged an employee in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) after it denied her request to work from home 4 days per week as an accommodation for her irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”). In an en banc decision the Sixth Circuit has now reversed the original panel’s decision, concluding that the district court properly granted Ford’s motion for summary judgment on the ADA claim. In so ruling, the Court credited Ford’s business judgment that the employee’s presence in the work place was an essential function of her job, and thus her request to telecommute four days per week was not a request for a reasonable accommodation to which Ford had to accede. The EEOC had heralded the original panel’s decision as a major victory. The Sixth Circuit’s en banc reversal of that decision should be cause for equal celebration by employers.
The EEOC is heralding a recent decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Equal Opportunity Employment Commission v. Ford Motor Co., a case in which the agency brought suit on behalf of a Ford employee who alleged she was terminated in retaliation for filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. In her charge, the employee alleged Ford violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by not allowing her to telecommute to work. The district court granted Ford’s motion for summary judgment, but, in a 2-to-1 decision, the Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that the EEOC had presented evidence sufficient to survive summary judgment that (a) by requesting to telecommute the employee had sought a reasonable accommodation for her disability and (b) the alternative accommodations offered by the company were insufficient. Of concern to employers is the little weight given by the majority opinion to the employer’s business judgment that the employee’s presence in the workplace was an essential function of her job.