The Supreme Court’s term just got much more interesting for leave management lawyers. A petition for certiorari was filed last week in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., the Seventh Circuit decision rejecting the EEOC’s position that an “inflexible” or “maximum” leave policy violates the ADA because it does not allow for additional leave as a reasonable accommodation. I had posted that the Supreme Court would eventually need to resolve the “inflexible leave” issue. Perhaps that time will be soon.
Heartland Woodcraft had provided the plaintiff with all of the leave he was entitled to under the FMLA and denied his request for an additional two to three months to recover from back surgery. The plaintiff claimed he was entitled to more leave as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. The EEOC filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff.
The Seventh Circuit held that the ADA does not govern medical leaves. “The ADA is an antidiscrimination statute, not a medical-leave entitlement….. Long-term medical leave is the domain of the FMLA,” the Court said.
Underlying the EEOC’s inflexible leave position is the oxymoronic anomaly that an individual who cannot come to work is nonetheless a qualified individual with a disability, defined as one who can perform the essential functions of the position either with or without an accommodation.
The Seventh Court rejected that argument. “[A] n employees who needs long-term medical leave cannot work and thus is not a ‘qualified individual’ under the ADA,” the court said. (italics in original). “[A] long-term leave of absence cannot be a reasonable accommodation…..'[N}ot working is not a means to perform the job’s essential functions,” the court added.
In a 2014 opinion authored by then-Tenth Circuit Judge, now Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch, the Tenth Circuit rejected the argument that the employer’s six-month maximum leave policy violated the ADA. Hwang v. Kansas State University, (10th Cir. 2014).