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Significantly, 42 U.S.C.S. § 12111(8) and 45 C.F.R. § 1232.3(i) contain no reference to a person's future ability to perform the essential functions of his position. To the contrary, they are formulated entirely in the present tense, framing the precise issue as to whether an individual can (not will be able to) perform the job with reasonable accommodations. Nothing in the text of the reasonable accommodation provision requires an employer to wait for an indefinite period for an accommodation to achieve its intended effect. Rather, reasonable accommodation is by its terms most logically construed as that which, presently, or in the immediate future, enables the employee to perform the essential functions of the job in question.
While attempting to open an old air-release valve, Roderick Billups felt something pop in her right shoulder. A physician stated that Billups could not, push, or pull more than fifteen pounds. With these limitations, Billups could not perform the essential functions of the Utility Service Technician II position in Emerald Coast's Regional Services Department. Billups began leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") on December 19, 2013. He expected to be able to return to work in about a month; however, his conservative treatment was unsuccessful and he needed to undergo surgery, which was scheduled on April 16, 2004. About a month before the surgery, Billups’ twelve weeks of FMLA leave expired. On May 27, 2014, the surgeon signed a worker’s compensation form stating that Billups was likely to return with no restrictions in six weeks. On June 23, 2014, Billups received notice that his employment had been termination for his continuing inability to perform the essential requirements of his job. Billups then filed a complaint in state court against Emerald Coast, which removed the action to the federal district court. In his complaint, Billups alleged that Emerald Coast violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for his disability. Second, he alleged that Emerald Coast violated the Florida Workers Compensation Law, Fla. Stat. § 440.205, by retaliating against him for seeking worker's compensation benefits. The district court granted summary judgment to Emerald Coast. Billups appealed.
Did the district court err in granting summary judgment in favor of the employer?
The Court held that the district court properly granted summary judgment to the former employer on the former employee's ADA claim because, in light of the employer's allowance of six months of leave and the uncertainty about when the employee could have performed the essential functions of his position in the future, the employee had not shown that a reasonable jury could have concluded that he was denied a reasonable accommodation that would have allowed him to perform the essential functions of his job either presently or in the immediate future. The district court properly granted summary judgment to the employer on the retaliation claim, under Fla. Stat. § 440.205, because the temporal proximity between the employee worker's compensation claim and his termination (over six months) was not sufficiently close to establish a causal connection.