Under the ADA, even a 15-minute task may be an essential job function

15 circleKolja Vraniskoska worked as an Environmental Services Technician for Franciscan Communities, Inc., a nursing home. Ms. Vran– (eh, let’s go with Ms. V) — had several responsibilities as an ES Tech, one of which was pushing and unloading a linen cart. Franciscan required that each ES Tech take a linen cart stocked with fresh linens and transport it from the laundry to their unit by pushing or pulling it down the hall. During the day, the linen cart remained stationary as the ES Tech took fresh linens from the cart. At the end of the day, the ES Tech had to push the linen cart back to the laundry. Transporting the linen cart took approximately fifteen minutes each day.

Ms. V gets hurt

During the course of her employment, Ms. V suffered a wrist injury. Initially, during recovery, her doctor advised that Ms. V should not use her left hand at all. So, Franciscan allowed Ms. V to perform light duty. Eventually, Ms. V’s wrist improved to the point where should could lift up to five pounds. But, her condition never improved. So, Franciscan, which had a policy of providing temporary light duty during recovery, told Ms. V that she had 45 days in which to find another suitable position within the company, or be fired.

Ms. V gets fired and sues

And I wouldn’t be writing this post unless Ms. V got fired, so, you know.

Among other things Ms. V claimed that Franciscan violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to accommodate her disability.

While the parties agreed that Ms. V was disabled, they disagreed about whether she was otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of her job with or without a reasonable accommodation. Specifically, the parties disputed whether using the linen cart, a task that took up only fifteen minutes of the work day, was an essential part of Ms. V’s job.

Ms. V loses

In granting summary judgment to Franciscan (opinion here), the court found that operating the linen cart was an essential task; one which, on paper, was necessary for ES Techs to be able to perform their jobs. Further, the Court concluded that this function existed in practice as well. Moreover, Franciscan, which was entitled to substantial deference in determining which job duties are essential, had a valid reason for including it among the various duties of the ES Tech position.

Thus, just as twerking has transcended its fifteen minutes of fame into our permanent vernacular, so too may a discrete 15-minute task be so essential to ones job, that the inability to perform it makes all the difference between winning and losing a disability-discrimination claim.