How the "Essential Functions" of a Job Affects a Discrimination Disability Lawsuit

Disability discrimination occurs whenever an employer fails to make a “reasonable accommodation” requested by an employee with a documented physical or mental impairment. What constitutes “reasonable” varies based on the situation. An employer may reject an accommodation–and even fire a disabled employee–if it can prove there was no accommodation that would allow the employee to perform the “essential functions” of a given job.

State Judge Declines to Dismiss NYCHRL Claim Despite Federal Ruling

Again, there is no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to deciding what qualifies as an “essential function.” Obviously, employers tend to take a broad view of what they consider essential. But that alone is not sufficient proof to defeat a disability discrimination claim.

Consider this recent decision from a discrimination lawsuit currently pending before a Manhattan Supreme Court judge. The plaintiff in this case previously filed a federal lawsuit against his former employer, Metro-North, alleging he was fired due to his disability. He further alleged the defendant refused his request to make reasonable accommodation for his disability.

The defendant replied that the plaintiff was fired due to “poor performance”; he was frequently absent, unresponsive to management, and was unable to complete his assignments. The federal court accepted the defendant's explanation and dismissed the plaintiff's federal claims, although it declined to separately consider whether or not the employer violated the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). As Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Anthony Cannataro explained, the federal court's ruling only established that the plaintiff's termination was justified. It did not address the question of whether or not the defendant failed to provide “reasonable accommodation” to the plaintiff as defined by the NYCHRL.

At this stage of the litigation, Justice Cannataro said there was still an active dispute as to whether or not the plaintiff “could still perform the essential functions of the job even with reasonable accommodation.” Indeed, the parties disagreed as to what constituted the “essential functions” of the plaintiff's former job. While the defendant pointed to accommodations it allegedly made, the plaintiff maintained that those actually created additional burdens that did not help him do his job. For these and other reasons, the court declined to dismiss the plaintiff's disability discrimination claims at this time.

Speak with a New York Disability Discrimination Lawyer Today

In some cases, it is fairly easy to define the essential function of a job. If you are hired as an airline pilot, for example, flying planes is obviously an essential function of that position. Most cases are not so simple. There are a number of factors a court will look at when determining the essential functions of a given job, and you should not assume that just because your employer deems a particular task “essential,” that does not make it so as a matter of law.

This is why it is critical to work with a qualified New York City disability discrimination lawyer if you need to pursue a claim against a current or former employer. Contact the Law Offices of Nisar Law Group, P.C., today if you need to speak with an attorney right away.