Truck dispatcher needing part-time, remote work wasn’t covered by ADA, 11th Circuit rules

Dive Brief:

  • The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a worker’s Americans with Disabilities Act claim, determining that she was no longer a “qualified individual” protected by the law due to the limitations of her mental health impairment.
  • The trucking dispatcher, who worked as a full-time area planning manager for Schneider National Carriers, Inc., received a PTSD diagnosis and took leave under federal law accordingly. Schneider allowed her to return with a temporary arrangement of working part-time and partly from home; after granting a few extensions to the worker, ultimately the employer terminated her.
  • In response, the worker sued her employer, making failure-to-accommodate, discrimination and retaliation claims. A district court ruled in the employer’s favor, and a federal appeals court agreed, holding that full-time work and in-person work were essential functions of the job — a job which she could no longer perform.

Dive Insight:

This ruling comes amid ongoing disability-related discourse about return-to-office mandates. Advocates argue that RTO orders disproportionately affect the productivity and stress levels of workers with disabilities.

Early on, labor experts, disability advocates and people with disabilities were vocal about how flexible work and a digital-first society could benefit that community. In March 2020 survey results from tech company Git Lab, 83% of workers with a disability or chronic illness said remote work was integral to their workforce contribution.

Prior to the pandemic, the 6th Circuit held that temporary remote work could be an ADA accommodation. At the time, it opened the door to new possibilities: both an opportunity for a compliance slip-up if rogue telework was allowed but if telework for a disability was denied, and an opportunity to champion marginalized workers.

Throughout the pandemic, workers with disabilities came to the forefront of conversations — not just those regarding DEI, but about DEI’s business case. A sense that there was a labor shortage from 2021 to 2022 and the prevalence of digital-first work cultures prompted recruiters to reassess their talent pipelines, researchers said