Listing Essential Function in Job Description Required to Defeat ADA Claim

January 08, 2018

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court’s dismissal a disability discrimination claim brought by a female police detective because the job description for the employee's position did not support the reason for termination.

Years earlier, the detectivesuffered a “small heart attack” that the Police Department felt presented a significant risk if she suffered a Taser shock. As part of the Taser usage and training policy, the Department required each officer to receive a five-second shock. The plaintiff obtained a letter from her doctor asking for an exception due to her prior medical history. Soon thereafter, the Department put her on leave and terminated her employment. Although the trial court felt that dismissal was appropriate, the Circuit Court determined that a jury could conclude that the exposure to Taser shocks was not an essential function of the job. A trial was deemed necessary because, in part, the “physical demands” section of the written job description did not mention that it was necessary for a detective to be exposed to a Taser shock. Further, the “work environment” section of the job description stated a “detective must be willing to carry a firearm on and off the job and be mentally and physically capable of using deadly force, if justified.” It did not state anything about Tasers or using a Taser.

To prevent and better defend claims, employers regularly should update job descriptions to ensure they accurately describe current essential functions.