On Sept. 20, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., No. 15-3754 (7th Cir. Sept. 20, 2017), that an employer who failed to provide long-term leave as an accommodation did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Instead, the Court reasoned that “a long-term leave of absence cannot be a reasonable accommodation” under the ADA.
As background, the plaintiff in the case was a former employee of Heartland who exhausted his FMLA leave due to back problems. Heartland terminated him after the end of his leave, inviting him to reapply for his job after he was able to return to work. The plaintiff then sued Heartland, claiming that they did not reasonably accommodate him under the ADA.
The District Court ruled in favor of Heartland, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed that decision. Specifically, they pointed out that the ADA is about discrimination, not medical-leave entitlement. They further explained that reasonable accommodations are limited to those accommodations that will enable an employee to actually work, not those that would allow the employee not to work.
Although the Court’s opinion was pretty straightforward, the EEOC actually disagrees with the Court and takes the position that an extended leave of absence could be a reasonable accommodation. Other courts have also agreed with the EEOC, so the circuits are currently split on this issue.
While this case is based on an employment law issue, employers should be aware of the possible intersection of the ADA with non-FMLA leave. Ultimately, this case underscores the importance of obtaining outside counsel in situations where an employee may have exhausted FMLA leave and is dealing with a disability.
Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft »