Indefinite Leave Of Absence Not A Reasonable Accommodation

Wayne Anderson was a firefighter for the City of Coon Rapids, Minnesota. In 2005, Anderson began experiencing symptoms of endocarditis, a heart infection. He was diagnosed in May 2006, and he continues to be monitored for the condition. In 2011, Anderson saw a neurologist for complaints regarding fatigue, gait instability, and muscle weakness. The neurologist advised that Anderson could not return to work until November 25, 2011.

On November 15, 2011, Anderson left a voicemail with the City’s human resources coordinator, stating the following: “I have to prepare myself for early retirement. All of the medical tests are in. I’m pretty sure the doctor is not going to let me come back. But, you know, one thing at a time.”

The neurologist later told Anderson that biopsy results showed he had muscular dystrophy. The neurologist told the City that Anderson had a permanent and potentially progressive muscle disease and that he could no longer work as a firefighter. A City doctor reached the same conclusion.

Anderson, however, would not be eligible for full retirement benefits until he reached the age of 55. Anderson eventually requested that the City provide him with an open-ended leave of absence to allow him to reach his retirement age. The City responded to Anderson in a letter, stating that the request was contrary to past practices and the collective bargaining agreement and went “well beyond what is reasonable for the City to accommodate.” Though Anderson eventually obtained a third opinion that his condition would not prevent his work as a firefighter, the City adhered to its decision to deny him the requested time off from work.

Anderson sued the City under the Americans With Disabilities Act, contending that the City failed to reasonably accommodate his disability. At a minimum, Anderson contended, he should have been granted a leave of absence.

A federal court turned away Anderson’s claim. The heart of the matter, the Court found, was that “there is no dispute that, after Anderson’s initial diagnosis and before his termination, everyone agreed he could no longer work as a firefighter. Anderson argues, however, that because his diagnosis was reversed, he would have been able to perform his duties had the City given him time to seek a second opinion. A leave of absence might, in some circumstances, be a reasonable accommodation. Leave is not reasonable under the ADA, however, where at the time of termination the employee had no idea when, if ever, he would be able to return.

“Neither Anderson nor the City had reason to doubt the medical opinions of the first two doctors, and the reversal of the diagnosis could not have been reasonably predicted. Moreover, Anderson did not tell City officials that he was seeking another opinion.

“Anderson further argues, however, that letting him use his accrued sick leave would have been reasonable because the City had recently granted a similar request to a younger employee who was recovering from a stroke. The Court disagrees. In contrast to Anderson’s situation, the City understood that the other employee might be able to return to work. The Court finds that Anderson has not established a prima facie case of disability discrimination, and summary judgment is warranted.”

Anderson v. City of Coon Rapids, 2015 WL 364669 (D. Minn. 2015).