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Americans with Disabilities Act – Essential Functions – Issue of Fact for Jury

July 16, 2015 by In Employment

In Shell v. Smith (7th Cir. June 15, 2015), the Seventh Circuit reversed the District Court and held that issues of fact must be decided by a jury on whether driving a bus was an essential function for the plaintiff.  To be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended (“ADAAA”), one must generally be a qualified individual with a disability (“QUID”).  To be a QUID, one must be able to perform the “essential functions” of their job with or without reasonable accommodations.  There are many components to a QUID, and disputes often arise on whether job duties are essential or marginal.

In Shell, the plaintiff worked as a Mechanic’s Helper for the City of Anderson Transit System.  Although the job description stated that he may occasionally drive buses, and although the job description also required a CDL, Shell worked for twelve (12) years without driving a bus and without a CDL.  When the City of Anderson hired a new general manager, he informed Shell that he would be terminated unless he obtained a CDL.  Shell did not obtain his CDL, and subsequently the City of Anderson terminated Shell’s employment.

The District Court held that driving the bus was an essential function, and because Shell could not drive the bus (no CDL), he was not a QUID because he could not perform an essential function with or without reasonable accommodations.  The Seventh Circuit reversed and found that a jury needed to decide the issue of whether driving the bus was an essential function.  According to the Seventh Circuit, an essential function is determined by considering a number of factors, such as the amount of time an employee “actually” spends doing the function and the consequences of not requiring the employee to perform the function.  The employer’s judgment as to what is essential is an important factor, but it is not controlling.  The Seventh Circuit noted that the plaintiff worked for twelve (12) years without driving, which provides evidence from which a jury may conclude that driving the bus was not an essential function.