Thursday, July 26, 2018

6th Circuit offers a good reminder that the ADA is often a bilateral process

Like many people, I would love to have the time to exercise more. Life (and by life, I mean the 10 or more hours per day I'm often at work) gets in the way.

What if, however, you had the available time to exercise during the work day?

Or, for example, consider, McDonald v. UAW-GM Center for Human Resources (6th Cir. 6/21/18), which asks whether an employer is required to grant an extended lunch break as a reasonable accommodation to permit an employee to engage in disability-related exercise.

Per her employer's collective bargaining agreement, Shannon McDonald's employer permitted employees annually to elect whether to take a 60-minute lunch break, or a 30-minute lunch break with two additional non-contiguous 15-minute breaks. In 2014, McDonald opted for latter, yet kept extending her lunch by 30 minutes to exercise. She was born with Crouzon syndrome, a genetic disorder, which caused multiple surgeries over the years. She claimed that exercise helped alleviate pain from those previous surgeries.

The employer, however, caught on to McDonald's extended lunches, refused to permit her to change her annual election, and warned her that a continuing failure to follow its policy on breaks could result in discipline. It did, however, offer her an alternative. In lieu of granting an exception to her annual lunch-break election, the employer offered McDonald the option to use its exercise facility prior to the start of her shift. She refused, however, because she "would rather have been able to switch [her] lunch from a half hour to an hour," and that she did not want to "wake up early if [she] didn't have to."

Ultimately, the employer suspended McDonald. She had submitted a doctor's note asking for 60 minutes of exercise time as an accommodation. While the employer was considering the request, McDonald continued to violate its lunch break rule. That violation resulted in her suspension. While on suspension, she resigned, and sued.

The 6th Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of McDonald's ADA claim.

CHR never denied McDonald's request. True, her immediate supervisor told her it was not feasible and suggested alternatives. But the actual decision-makers had not yet rendered their verdict.… But McDonald didn't wait for an answer: she immediately went on personal leave after her suspension and quit just a few weeks after that. "[A]n employee cannot base a disability discrimination claim upon an employer's delay in providing a requested accommodation where the delay is due to internal processing or to events outside the employer's control."

Like many workplace issues, the ADA is a two-way street. An employee cannot claim the Act's protection by shutting down one of those lane and demanding a one-sided process.