Mr. Joseph P. Feagan, Ms. Lillie B. White, and Ms. Nellie M. Richards (“Plaintiffs”), worked as drivers for defendant Jaunt, Inc., a paratransit service. The three drivers had ailments that prevented them from being able to assist customers who use wheelchairs. In 2001, Jaunt instituted a new driver classification system which included Driver II (drivers with limitations) and Driver III (full service drivers) categories. Jaunt began requiring that all newly hired drivers meet Driver III criteria as evidenced by passing a physical test mimicking the stresses placed on drivers in service. Jaunt did not require the Plaintiffs to pass the test and did not assign them to serve customers in wheelchairs.
In 2004 Jaunt restructured its driver classification system to reduce expenses and inconveniences and improve customer service. Jaunt began requiring that all drivers be capable of assisting customers in wheelchairs, and gave all Driver II employees six months to pass the physical test or be laid off. Jaunt claims to have offered job placement assistance to drivers who were unable to pass the test. The Plaintiffs refused to take the test, were laid off, and brought suit under the ADA alleging disability-based discrimination. A federal district court in Virginia granted summary judgment in favor of Jaunt, and the Plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Plaintiffs alleged that Jaunt regarded them as individuals with a disability and failed to provide accommodations, which led to their termination. Jaunt argued the Plaintiffs were not qualified individuals with disabilities, because they did not have disabilities that significantly limit them in a major life activity. Jaunt further contended that even if the Plaintiffs were individuals with disabilities under the ADA, assisting customers who use wheelchairs is an essential function of their job, and the ADA does not require that Jaunt excuse plaintiffs from performing that function.
The court concluded that where Jaunt did not believe the Plaintiffs were incapable of performing a broad range of jobs, Jaunt did not regard the Plaintiffs as individuals with a disability under the ADA. Then, applying the standard that a function is essential if it has more than a marginal relationship to the job, the court found that assisting customers in wheelchairs was essential for the job, because the “purpose of Jaunt’s existence is to provide transit to people with disabilities.”
The district court then considered whether the Plaintiffs could complete the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations. The district court noted the Plaintiffs did not request accommodations, but rather, that they be excused from performing of the essential function assisting customers in wheelchairs. Finally, the court held “the ADA does not require that employers alter job requirements to suit applicants or employees.”
The district court concluded the Plaintiffs were not qualified individuals with a disability and could not perform an essential job function with or without a reasonable accommodation. Where the plaintiffs were unable to perform an essential function, the ADA does not require the employer to alter the job requirements. Agreeing with the reasons set forth in the district court opinion, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court decision.
Where an employee with a disability is able to perform the essential functions of her/his job with a reasonable accommodation, the employee has the duty to suggest the accommodations to be made. If the employer does not believe the requested accommodation to be reasonable, s/he must be able to support that belief and then suggest alternative accommodations. If an employee cannot perform an essential job function with or without a reasonable accommodation, the employer does not have to eliminate the job function in order to accommodate the employee.