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Helping worker dodge jury duty with medical excuse doesn’t amount to disability

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s a novel twist on the ADA violation of regarding someone as disabled. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that an employer doesn’t necessarily consider an employee disabled just because a manager uses a health-related excuse to help a worker get out of jury duty.

Recent case: Asencion Luna worked for a Walgreens drug store for about five years. Twice when she was called to jury duty, she asked her supervisor to tell the court she couldn’t serve because she had “degenerative disc disease.”

Later, Luna asked for an accommodation and her supervisor initially denied the request. She then stopped coming to work and instead sued, alleging disability discrimination. She argued that the company had essentially admitted it considered her disabled when it provided the jury excuses.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It said that nothing in the letters actually said she was disabled—just that she had degenerative disc disease. (Luna v. Walgreen Company, No. 08-15600, 11th Cir., 2009)

ADA advice:
If you decide to deny an initial accommodations request, be sure you also let the employee know that you are willing to explore other possible accommodations. The process is supposed to be an interactive one. Give her a chance to make suggestions and explain that you want to help if you can. Don’t let her think that just because you are turning down her first request, you are discharging her. And document everything in case she sues later.

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