Reasonable Accommodation Can't Eliminate Essential Functions

By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 05, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed this week that an employer doesn't have to reallocate or eliminate the essential functions of a job to accommodate a disabled employee.

Terri Kallail began working at Alliant Energy Corporate Services in 1996 as a Customer Service Consultant. She eventually became a Resource Coordinator at the Distribution Dispatch Center (DDC) in Cedar Rapids. To provide 24/7 coverage, Alliant requires Resource Coordinators at the DDC to work 9-week schedules that rotate between 12-hour and 8-hour shifts, and day and night shifts.

Kallail has several health problems that make rotating shifts impractical. First, she has Type I diabetes and is dependent on insulin. She must carefully manage the timing, frequency, quantity, carbohydrate count, and quality of the food and drink that she consumes. She also suffers from Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD), which significantly limits circulation to her legs and feet. As a result of her PVD, it is difficult for Kallail to walk or do anything else that causes her to lose blood flow to her legs.

By the fall of 2004, Kallail had increased difficulty managing her diabetes while working a rotating shift. The rotating shift was causing her to experience erratic changes in blood pressure and blood sugar, and it put her at a higher risk for diabetic complications and death. She provided Alliant's HR department with a letter from her doctor recommending only straight day shifts; Alliant denied the request.

The company tried to find another position for Kallail, but their efforts were fruitless.

In 2007, Kallail began to receive long-term disability benefits under Alliant's disability plan. She also filed charges against Alliant with the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission (CRCRC), the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC), and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that Alliant discriminated against her based on disability by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation. She later obtained a right to sue letter and filed a complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA).

Alliant removed the case to federal court. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Alliant. Kallail appealed.

This week, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Alliant.

The issue in this case was not whether Kallail was disabled or suffered an adverse employment action. Alliant readily conceded both points. Instead, Kallail argued that Alliant violated the ADA by refusing to accept her proposal to work a regular eight-hour day shift as a Resource Coordinator. The disputed issue was whether Kallail was able "to perform the essential functions of her job, with or without reasonable accommodation."

The Eighth Circuit concluded that the rotating shift was an essential function of Kallail's position, and that a straight day shift would not have allowed Kallail to perform the essential functions of her position. Since Kallail didn't "made a facial showing that reasonable accommodation is possible" and that accommodation would allow her to perform the essential functions of the job, the appellate court affirmed summary judgment.

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