11th Circuit Remands Case to Determine What's an Essential Function Under The ADA

March 31, 2014

A recent disability discrimination case evaluated whether a Type 1 insulin-dependent diabetic man could maintain his claim for disability discrimination against Federal Express Corporation “FedEx” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and its counterpart, the Florida Civil Rights Act. In Samson v. Federal Express Corporation, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that he could.

In 2009 FedEx offered the man, Richard Samson, an experienced vehicle mechanic, a job as a Senior Global Vehicle Technician at its airport facility in Fort Myers, Florida. The job was conditioned on Samson passing a Department of Transportation medical examination required for drivers who transport property or passengers in interstate commerce. Samson failing the medical examination due to his diabetic condition. As a result, FedEx withdrew his job offer. Samson subsequently sued, alleging disability discrimination, specifically claiming that FedEx was “imposing a requirement that [he] must obtain a [medical] care even though he would be a mechanic and not a commercial truck driver” and that “FedEx violated the ADA [and the FCRA}, which prohibit[] an employer from using qualification standards that screen out people with disabilities.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against “qualified individuals with a disability” in the terms and conditions of employment. The ADA also prohibits disability harassment and retaliation against you for complaining about disability discrimination or for participating in someone else’s disability discrimination case.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that a reasonable jury could find that FedEx discriminated against Samson by withdrawing his job offer based on his medical condition.

Additional facts revealed that on March 10, 2009 after an interview, FedEx sent Samson – the best candidate – a letter offering him the Technician position. During the DOT examination the following day, Samson disclosed that he is Type-1 insulin-dependent diabetic. Insulin-dependent diabetics are automatically disqualified from being medically certified as physically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce under Florida law absent an exemption. Two days later, FedEx sent Samson a letter withdrawing his job offer solely because he failed the medical examination. FedEx then hired the second best candidate for the position.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against “qualified individuals on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.”

As such, the court evaluated whether Samson was a “qualified individual” “who, with or without reasonable accommodation, could perform the essential functions of the employment position the person seeks.

The essential function of each job is determined on a case-by-case basis, examining a number of factors. These include the following: (1) the position exists to perform that functions; (2) a limited number of employees are available among whom that job function can be distributed; and (3) the job function is “highly specialized” so that the incumbent is hired for their expertise or ability to perform that function.

Thus, the court specifically reviewed whether “test driving” was an essential function of the job and determined that while some of the factors indicated “test-driving” is an essential function, the remaining factors pointed to the contrary. Further, the record showed that FedEx Technician throughout Florida generally test-drive an average of only about 3.71 hours per year, an insignificant portion of their total time on the job. Based on the totality of the evidence, the court concluded that jurors could disagree concerning whether test-driving FedEx truck s constituted an essential function of the job. Thus, Samson could maintain his claim pursuant to the ADA.

Further, the court also determined that the occasional test-driving of FedEx trucks did not constitute transporting property or passengers in interstate commerce, requiring FedEx to obtain DOT medical certification pursuant to Florida law.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals then reversed and remanded this case for a determination of whether FedEx’s medical examination requirement set forth an impermissible qualification standard. Based on this determination, Samson could maintain his claim against FedEx and seek appropriate redress.

For more information about disability discrimination, or if you believe you have been subject to negative employment consequences due to a “disability” such as hiring, firing or being denied a promotion, please contact the experienced Georgia disability discrimination attorneys at the Buckley Law Firm, LLC for an immediate consultation.