ADA Claim Fails Due to Inability to Perform Essential Job Functions

Dr. Michael Stern, a psychologist, could not avoid summary judgment against the employer he claims fired him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week. Stern v. St. Anthony’s Health Ctr. (7th Cir. 2015).

Stern was chief psychologist at St. Anthony’s Health Center. About 30 to 50 percent of his time went to staff supervision; another 15 to 30 percent was spent on administrative tasks; and he devoted between 15 and 25 percent to treating patients.

In the summer of 2010, one of Stern’s subordinates commented that Stern suffered from mental impairment, possibly Alzheimer’s disease. Investigating, facility supervisors discovered that some of Stern’s other staff members shared this concern.

An independent evaluator examined Stern, concluding his cognitive issues were real and not unlike those “in early Alzheimer’s patients.” St. Anthony’s fired Stern after determining that it couldn’t accommodate his condition.

The critical issue, according to the court, was whether St. Anthony’s unreasonably refused to consider a reasonable accommodation. The court determined that it had not.

To prevail on an ADA claim, a plaintiff must show not only that he was qualified for a position, but that he could perform the essential job functions of that position with or without a reasonable accommodation. The independent evaluator said Stern might be able to perform his clinical duties, but that his administrative and supervisory duties should be delegated. The court found that St. Anthony’s wasn’t required to delegate Stern’s essential job functions to someone else, as those duties were, in Stern’s case “essential.”

While employers are rightfully wary of becoming embroiled in an ADA controversy, this case reminds us that employees must still satisfy the necessary criteria to fall under its protection.

Members are urged to contact MSEC’s attorneys with any concerns.