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Kim Mason was injured on March 22, 2011 falling off her UPS delivery truck and injuring her wrist, requiring surgery. She reached maximal medical improvement in October 2011. Several months later she requested accommodations for her wrist disability under the ADA. Her surgeon completed a form which indicated that Mason could not perform all the functions of her current UPS driver position without certain accommodations. The doctor gave Mason a 25 pound lifting restriction with ability to lift 10 pounds occasionally.
Mason met with Human Resources regarding her accommodation request. She suggested that she could be accommodated by obtaining a position without the requirement of lifting heavy packages, noting management training and package center supervisor positions. She also identified other jobs like customer counter clerk, safety, and other less physical positions as suitable for her to perform. She noted that during her 17 years with UPS she had performed many of these jobs that she was asking to be considered for.
There was no question that Mason could not continue to perform her current job as a delivery truck driver because it involved heavy lifting. HR noted that Mason had the education, skills and experience to perform many of the jobs that she requested transfer to, but unfortunately there were no current openings. UPS has an ADA committee, and the committee made a final determination that there simply were no jobs available for Mason to perform. The company kept looking for union jobs during the next six months but none came open.
UPS employees who sought management positions in the company were required to go through the company’s “Management Assessment and Promotion Process” or “MAPP.” To initiate the process, the employee had to submit a written letter of interest to UPS, and this letter had to be submitted for every year that an employee wished to be considered for a management position. Letters of interest expired every December 31st. Once a letter is submitted, the employee’s supervisor would conduct an initial assessment with scoring in a number of areas. If an employee passed the first phase, then there were additional steps for the MAPP process. This MAPP process became pivotal because two positions opened up at the Huntsville, Alabama location that did not require handling packages. They were not union positions but management positions. UPS notified Mason regarding these two open positions but Mason had not even started the MAPP process and was unavailable.
Thereafter Mason initiated the first phase of the MAPP process. Her supervisor gave her a score between two and three. A score of 3.5 was required to pass the initial assessment, so Mason was never considered for promotion to a supervisory position in 2012.
From February 2012 to April 2013 several union job openings occurred at the Huntsville facility but all of them required physical functions far in excess of Mason’s restrictions. Mason alleged that there were people doing some of these jobs who were receiving help in heavy lifting of packages, including the position of customer clerk. One employee (Ms. Pender) gave testimony that she did get assistance from others on the heavy lifting aspects of the job.
Mason sued under the ADA asserting that UPS failed to accommodate her disability. UPS moved to dismiss the case by arguing that Mason was not a qualified individual because she could not perform the essential functions of her job or the jobs she desired. The district court agreed, and Mason appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court said that it was Mason’s burden to identify the accommodation she needed and then show that it is reasonable. The Court rejected Mason’s argument that UPS should have considered her for a management position. “The ADA does not mandate that employers promote disabled employees in order to accommodate them.” (citation omitted). Regarding Mason’s argument that other employees would be available to help on the heavy lifting, the Court said:
Mason’s restrictions would require her to leave every package weighing more than 25 pounds and some packages weighing between 10 and 25 pounds for other employees to deal with. Given that evidence in the record reflects that the Huntsville center is small and leanly staffed, and requires all employees to perform their functions, Pender’s testimony is again insufficient to create a genuine factual dispute regarding the impact requiring another employee to assist Mason with any package weighing more than 25 pounds would have on the package center’s operations. Thus, this requested accommodation is not reasonable.
In the end, the Court deferred to UPS’s job descriptions on what the lifting requirements were for each job and how the Huntsville facility functioned. The Court found that Mason failed to prove she was a qualified individual, and therefore UPS had no duty to accommodate her disability. The case can be found at Mason v. United Parcel Service Co. Inc., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 400 (11th Cir. 2017). It demonstrates several points: first, how easily a workers’ compensation injury can lead to ADA litigation; second, how important job descriptions are in establishing essential functions of the job; third, if any employee cannot show he or she is qualified to do the job, there is no duty to accommodate.
John H. Geaney, Esq., is an Executive Committee Member and a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group. Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Geaney at 856.914.2063 or by e‑mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.