State News : New Jersey

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New Jersey



In Valdez v. Brent McGill and Mueller Supply Company, Inc., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 2783 (10th Cir. 2012), the court considered whether a request for telecommuting and additional leave was a reasonable accommodation.


            Doyle Brown worked as a warehouse supervisor for Mueller Supply Company.  He supervised Mueller’s warehouse, including all shipping and receiving.  He advised his own supervisor, McGill, that he had cancer and would need surgery in April 2005.  Even though the company employed too few people at the work site to trigger FMLA, the company nevertheless offered Brown FMLA leave.  Brown returned to work following his surgery in May 2005.


            In January 2006, Mueller approved intermittent FMLA leave for recurrent health-related absences.  One year later, on January 24, 2007, Brown presented a note from his doctor indicating that he had serious health conditions and would need to be out of work until February 8, 2007. 


            On February 7, 2007, Mueller sent Brown a letter stating that he had exhausted his 12 weeks of FMLA leave.  On the same date Brown presented a new note stating that he would need three more weeks of leave until March 1, 2007.  Mueller then terminated Brown on February 8, 2007 for poor work performance and excessive absences.  Brown offered to come to work against doctors’ orders but the company refused. Brown then sued under the ADA and argued that the company failed to make reasonable accommodations.


            At some point Brown passed away and his personal representative, Valdez, proceeded on the case.  She argued that Brown could have performed the essential job functions had the company offered him the opportunity to work from home.  The court noted that Brown had conceded in his deposition that physical attendance in the workplace was required.  He maintained that he could use technology to perform many of the essential functions of the job, but he conceded that at home he could not perform quarterly or random inventory counts, could not interact with customers in the warehouse, and could not effectively supervise his staff.  Not being in the warehouse would make it hard to know whether his employees had completed job tasks.  Based on these statements, the court concluded that working from home was not a reasonable accommodation.


            Next, Valdez argued that additional leave would have been a reasonable accommodation.  The court said, “A leave of absence may be a reasonable accommodation as long as the employee’s request states the expected duration of the impairment.”  The court said, “Here, the record shows it was uncertain if or when Brown would sufficiently recover from his impairments to be able to return to work.”  The court added, “In light of his diagnosis with colon cancer, his frequent absences, and his inability to return to work according to the earlier physician’s note, it was uncertain he would be able to return to work on March 1, 2007.” Further, no doctor said that his conditions would be resolved by March 1, 2007.


            Valdez also argued that the company failed to engage in the very important interactive process to determine whether there was a potential reasonable accommodation.  The court rejected this argument as well.  “Accordingly, an employer is not required to engage an employee in a futile interactive process where, as we have concluded was the case here, no reasonable accommodation was possible.”


            In short, the ADA case was dismissed.  The opinion is interesting because employers are generally advised to engage in the interactive process.  But here the court held that the interactive process would have been of no utility since all of the requests for accommodation were simply not reasonable.