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EEOC v. Ford Motor Co.

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

December 3, 2014, Argued; April 10, 2015, Decided; April 10, 2015, Filed

No. 12-2484

Opinion

 [*757]  [***2]   McKEAGUE, Circuit Judge. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to reasonably accommodate their disabled employees; it does not endow all disabled persons with a job—or job schedule—of their choosing. Jane Harris, a Ford Motor Company employee with irritable bowel syndrome, sought a job schedule of her choosing: to work from home on an as-needed basis, up to four days per week. Ford denied her request, deeming regular and predictable on-site attendance essential to Harris's highly interactive job. Ford's papers and practices—and Harris's three past telecommuting failures—backed up its business judgment.

Nevertheless, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Ford under the ADA. It alleged that Ford failed to reasonably accommodate Harris by denying her telecommuting request and retaliated against  [*758]  her for bringing the issue to the EEOC's attention. The district court granted summary judgment to Ford on both claims. We affirm.

The Ford Motor Company employs about 224,000 employees worldwide. True to its founder's vision, Ford uses its employees in assembly lines to perform independent [**3]  yet interconnected tasks. Resale buyers of steel come early on the lines—before any assembling begins. They purchase raw steel from steel suppliers and then, as their name suggests, resell the steel to parts manufacturers known as "stampers." The stampers then supply the steel parts to the vehicle assemblers, who put together the vehicles.

As an intermediary between steel and parts suppliers, the resale buyer's job is highly interactive. Some of the interactions occur by email and telephone. But many require good, old-fashioned interpersonal skills. During core business hours, for example, resale buyers meet with suppliers at their sites and with Ford employees and stampers at Ford's site—meetings that Ford  [***3]  says are most effectively performed face to face. And Ford's practice aligns with its preaching: It requires resale buyers to work in the same building as stampers so they can meet on a moment's notice. This high level of interactivity and teamwork is why, in Ford's judgment, "a resale buyer's regular and predictable attendance in the workplace" is "essential to being a fully functioning member of the resale team." R. 60-2 at ¶ 11.

A former Ford resale buyer with irritable bowel [**4]  syndrome takes center stage in this case: Jane Harris. Her job performance was, on the whole, subpar. Early on in her six-plus year tenure, she won a few awards, and Ford recognized her for her "strong commodity knowledge" and "diligent[]" work effort. R. 66-2 at 2; R. 60-14 at 6. But over time, the awards and compliments morphed into low ratings and criticisms. Harris placed in the bottom 22% of her peer group in her fourth full year (2007) and in the bottom 10% in her fifth year (2008). It got worse. By her last year (2009), Harris "was not performing the basic functions of her position." R. 60-2 at ¶ 14. Ford said she lacked interpersonal skills, delivered work late, didn't show a concern for quality, and failed to properly communicate with the suppliers. She again ranked in the bottom 10% of her peers.

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782 F.3d 753 *; 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 5813 **; 2015 FED App. 0066P (6th Cir.) ***; 31 Am. Disabilities Cas. (BNA) 749; 16 Accom. Disabilities Dec. (CCH) P16-123

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Ann Arbor. No. 5:11-cv-13742—John Corbett O'Meara, District Judge.

EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128200 ( E.D. Mich., Sept. 10, 2012)

CORE TERMS

EEOC, telecommuting, telework, attendance, buyers, accommodation, resale, essential function, reasonable accommodation, employees, meetings, genuine dispute, interactive process, interactive, termination, regular, material fact, reasonable jury, on-site, regulations, retaliation, teamwork, summary judgment, predictable, disability, physical presence, worksite, courts, business hours, face-to-face

Civil Procedure, Judgments, Summary Judgment, Evidentiary Considerations, Entitlement as Matter of Law, General Overview, Labor & Employment Law, Disability Discrimination, Reasonable Accommodations, Scope & Definitions, Qualified Individuals With Disabilities, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Employee Burdens of Proof, Business & Corporate Compliance, Interactive Process, Retaliation, Statutory Application, Americans With Disabilities Act, Discrimination, Burdens of Proof, Elements, Appeals, Reviewability of Lower Court Decisions, Preservation for Review, Causation