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Americans with Disabilities Act

Brief - Changing job structures as an ADA accommodation - Hoskins v. Oakland County Sheriff's Dept., 227 F.3d 719 (6th Cir 2000)

Plaintiff worked for the Oakland County Sheriff's Department ("OCSD") from 1979 until her termination in 1997. She as a dispatcher at the Oakland County Jail and was promoted to deputy sheriff, level one ("deputy one"). From 1993 until her termination in 1997, Hoskins was assigned to the Novi District Court, a position that involved the transportation of inmates. Hoskins's position at the district court involved daily contact with prisoners and the potential for physical confrontation.  In 1996 Hoskins suffered severe non-work-related injuries when a horse fell on her. Plaintiff's physician, Dr. E. Patrick Mitchell, indicated that her injuries included a "non-displaced fracture of the inferior and superior pubic ramus on the left and fractured bilateral clavicles." As a result of these multiple injuries, plaintiff was hospitalized for two and a half weeks and underwent a recuperation period of a year and a half. She was treated by two different doctors and obtained letters restricting her activity from both. Dr. William Bria, a pulmonary specialist, wrote a letter stating that Hoskins "is able to return to work, however, she should not be lifting or engaging in any activity that would jar her chest, such as shooting a shotgun or getting into a situation in which she could get hit in the chest." On July 18, Dr. Mitchell attached a disability certificate to Dr. Bria's letter; the certificate indicated that Hoskins was restricted to light work duties that did not impact her anterior chest or shoulders. Dr. Mitchell also wrote a letter that stated:

"[plaintiff] has restrictions of no lifting, pushing or pulling over 20 pounds, no use of shotgun and no restraining of inmates. She still experiences pain and decreased range of motion. She has severe limitation of her functional capacity and needs a sedentary position. Her motivation and rehabilitation potential is excellent. Her prognosis is guarded. . . . I do not believe that Susan will ever be able to resume full duty as a Deputy with Oakland County Sheriff's Department. She will probably need permanent restrictions of certain activities which would be considered duties of a Deputy Sheriff.

Plaintiff asked to return to work, but was told that there were no light duty positions available.  The county conducted a termination hearing and determined that she could not fulfill the requirements for a deputy's job.  She refused a reassignment as a dispatcher  or booking clerk, jobs that would not exceed her physical limitations but which would entail a substantial pay cut.  The county fired her and she brought this claim under the ADA.  The district court dismissed her claim, finding that she was not disabled under the act because her injuries did not affect major life activities, and, if she was disabled, that she was not otherwise qualified because she could not do the essential job functions.  Plaintiff also brought a claim of gender discrimination based on differential treatment of male deputies needing light duty.

The appeals court found that plaintiff's injuries did substantially affect several of her major life activities and that she was disabled under the ADA.  The court then looked at the essential functions of a deputy one such as plaintiff, finding that retraining prisoners was an essential function of the job.  The court rejected plaintiff's arguments that since she had never had to physically restrain a prisoner, and that it was a rare occurrence for all deputies, that it was not an essential function.  Plaintiff's best argument was that she should be assigned to a job that did not involve prisoner contact.  The defendant argued that this was a rotation job that was use to give deputies a break from the more stressful work of direct prisoner contact.  The court found that an employer was not required to convert a temporary position to a permanent condition as an accommodation.  The court rejected her claim that she was treated differently from disabled male deputies, finding that she was unable to show that she was similarly situated to those who were temporarily accommodated because she was permanently disabled.

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