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If accommodation can’t enable essential functions, termination may be only option

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Being qualified for a job doesn’t mean the person can do it well. And the inability to really execute an essential job function can warrant dismissal, even if the employee claims a disability.

Take, for example, a newly hired professor who turns out to have psychological problems that prevent her from teaching class. In such cases, an employer may just have to deliver the bad news—no amount of accommodation is going to make a difference.

Recent case: Methodist College of Nursing hired Eileen Jackson as a full professor. She had the advanced degree required for the teaching position. After a few months, it became apparent that Jackson had trouble relating to her students, preparing class lectures and generally doing the things required to successfully teach a college-level course.

Jackson then claimed she was disabled, citing various psychological and mental disorders such as anxiety, attention deficit disorder and panic attacks. She told her supervisors that she “hated walking into the classroom” because she often had panic attacks during lectures. When her performance deteriorated and complaints flowed about Jackson’s angry outbursts and other unprofessional behavior, the college terminated her.

Jackson sued, alleging failure to accommodate.

The college said there was no way to accommodate Jackson, since teaching classes is essential to a job as a professor. The court agreed and dismissed her case. (Jackson v. Methodist Medical Center, et al., No. 06-1235, CD IL, 2008)

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