On November 6, 2023, the United States Supreme Court declined to review the Fourth Circuit’s decision affirming summary judgment for the employer in an ADA accommodation case, Hannah v. UPS, No. 21-1647 (July 10, 2023). The Fourth Circuit’s decision is worth revisiting as a roadmap for employers seeking summary judgment for ADA accommodation claims.
Plaintiff Jay Hannah was a delivery driver for Defendant UPS. Mr. Hannah suffered from several, short-term disabilities related to his back, hips, and buttocks. He requested several accommodations, including a more cushioned seat, a smaller van with softer suspension, and another driver to partially cover his route. UPS installed a more cushioned seat but rejected Mr. Hannah’s requested accommodations for a smaller van and shorter route. The latter requests would have required “displacement” of another driver and violated UPS’s collective bargaining agreement with its drivers. UPS contended that Mr. Hannah’s ability to drive his normal route was an essential function of his job. UPS instead offered Mr. Hannah unlimited unpaid leave until he could drive his usual truck on his usual route. Mr. Hannah rejected UPS’s offer.
The district court granted summary judgment in favor of UPS, concluding Mr. Hannah could not show he could perform the essential functions of his job. The Fourth Circuit affirmed.
The Fourth Circuit found that Mr. Hannah’s requested accommodations, the smaller van and “displacement,” were not valid accommodation requests. The Court affirmed that an employer only needs to offer accommodations to an employee that would not be an undue burden on the employer. The smaller van could not accomplish Mr. Hannah’s deliveries, and violation of a collective bargaining agreement is a per se undue burden. The Court further affirmed that the employer sets the essential functions of a job according to its business judgment. Finally, leave without pay is a reasonable accommodation.
UPS’s accommodations process is instructive. An employer need not accept an employee’s requested accommodation. An employer can instead design a process that offers a disabled employee an accommodation that helps them perform the essential functions of their job while avoiding undue burden on the employer. An employer should also thoroughly document the interactive process, including accommodations sought and accommodations offered.