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Eleventh Circuit Reaffirms the Importance of Job Descriptions

Published by on June 23, 2017

Job descriptions may help employers defend against disability discrimination suits.

Job descriptions may help employers defend against disability discrimination suits.

The Eleventh Circuit recently considered whether an individual with disabilities could perform the essential functions of her job in Kim Mason v. United Parcel Service. The Court held that the plaintiff had not presented enough evidence to show that she could perform the essential functions of vacant positions listed on the descriptions for the positions.

The plaintiff in this case, Kim Mason, worked for United Parcel Service (UPS) and after almost 16 years of employment, fell off the back of her delivery truck, injuring her wrist. The injury to her wrist required surgery, and almost seven months after the injury, Mason’s doctor concluded she had reached maximum medical improvement. Mason requested accommodation for her alleged disability, as she had medical restrictions on her ability to lift and lower packages and therefore could no longer perform all of the functions of her current position as a driver. She requested a transfer to a position that did not have a heavy lifting requirement (or lifting above the shoulder requirement) and identified possible positions she could perform.

UPS informed Mason that it did not have any available positions for which she was qualified for and could perform at that time and periodically checked to see if any such positions became available. Mason did not qualify for non-union, supervisory positions. The job descriptions for the three non-management, union positions that did become available all included heavy lifting requirements. Mason was deemed not qualified for these positions, and she sued UPS alleging disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The district court found, and the Eleventh Circuit agreed, that Mason did not present any evidence rebutting the written job descriptions’ heavy lifting and lifting-above-the-shoulder requirements.

An individual who did fill one of these available positions testified that lifting “heavy” packages was a “marginal” and “infrequent” function of the position and that you could ask for assistance with large packages. The Eleventh Circuit, however, found this testimony was not enough to rebut the lifting functions listed job description and that getting help for all packages above 25 pounds in a leanly staffed package center was not reasonable. Based on this reasoning, the Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of UPS since Mason could not show she was able to perform the essential functions of the available jobs and therefore, was not a qualified individual under the ADA.

Welter Insight

This decision by the Eleventh Circuit highlights the importance of well-written job descriptions that reflect the essential functions of a position. Having written documentation of the essential functions of a position (especially before a dispute has risen) can help an employer defend against disability related claims. Therefore, employers should take time to review their job descriptions and update them as necessary.

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