The Sixth Circuit recently reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of an employer in a case arising under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The Court determined that an issue of fact existed as to whether the ability to lift more than 35 pounds was an essential function of plaintiff’s job as a stock clerk and, if so, whether he could perform this essential function with or without reasonable accommodation. Camp v. Bi-Lo, Inc., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 19053 (6th Cir. Oct. 21, 2016). In Camp, the plaintiff and the two other stock clerks failed to finish shelving products because the plaintiff could not assist with heavy lifting. Plaintiff was placed on a leave while the company evaluated his capabilities In deciding to discharge plaintiff, the employer relied upon a job description, created in 2007 (i.e., long after plaintiff began his employment), which required store clerks to lift at least 20 pounds “constantly” and 20 to 60 pounds “frequently.” The only question before the trial court and later the appellate court was whether lifting more than 35 pounds (which his doctor certified that plaintiff could not do) was an essential function of the stock clerk position. The Sixth Circuit found that it was not (and thus the discharge violated the Americans with Disabilities Act). While the employer relied on the written job description, its adherence to the job description was undermined by the immediate supervisor’s testimony that heavy lifting was not an essential function of the position. The Court distinguished the case from one involving a firefighter where the inability to lift the required weight could put another person’s life at risk. Refusing to “require blind deference to the employer’s stated judgment,” the Sixth Court found the “actual on-the-job experience” of plaintiff and his coworkers to be persuasive, thereby holding there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the ability to life more than 35 pounds was an essential function of the plaintiff’s job.
This decision serves as a reminder to employers of the importance of ensuring that written job descriptions are consistent with the actual functions required of the position and of the workers’ perceptions of what they do and how they do it.