ADA Does Not Entitle Officer To Accommodation Of His Choice

Mark Swanson was hired as a patrol officer by the Police Department of the Village of Flossmoor, Illinois in January 2000. On November 25, 2006, he was promoted to detective in the criminal investigations unit, where he worked until his career was cut short by two strokes that forced him to resign.

When Swanson suffered his first stroke on July 31, 2009, he took a leave of absence pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) until August 19, 2009. Swanson returned to work with a note from his doctor, which read: “Part-time work suggested until patient seen by Neurologist on 9/18/09.” To heed his doctor’s advice, Swanson began using two days of his accrued medical leave each week, enabling him to receive a full paycheck while only working three-day weeks.

According to Swanson, upon his return to work, he was excluded from several investigations in which he should have been involved. He also alleged that at some point during the month of September he began experiencing headaches and lightheadedness, which prompted him to ask his supervisor if he could be placed on desk duty. The supervisor denied the request on the grounds that the Department had no light-duty policy and denied the request. Swanson therefore continued to use his accrued medical leave to work a reduced schedule – a routine that satisfied his doctor’s recommendation until September 30, when Swanson experienced another stroke.

Swanson’s second stroke rendered him unable to work as a detective or patrol officer, and so Swanson’s doctor excused him from work until further notice. By November 17, Swanson’s status had not changed. He submitted paperwork certifying as much and requesting FMLA leave retroactively to September 30. The Village approved Swanson’s request, and he continued to use his paid medical leave to cover his absence.

On December 10, the City notified Swanson that his FMLA leave had expired and that his paid medical leave would expire on December 18. The letter reminded Swanson that he could request an unpaid leave of absence from the Village, and that he would “most likely” be reassigned from the investigations division to the patrol division upon his return to work.

On December 16, Swanson’s doctor released him back to work without restrictions. Before actually returning to his job, however, Swanson suffered another medical episode, which prompted his doctor to rescind his prior release and prohibit Swanson from resuming work. After further consultation with his physician, Swanson resigned five days later.

Swanson sued the City, contending that it violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by not reasonably accommodating his disability. The federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and dismissed the lawsuit.

The Court observed that “as best we can tell, Swanson premises his ADA claim on the Village’s failure to offer him either desk duty or part-time work, which we assume means ‘part-day’ work since, as mentioned, the Village allowed him to use his medical leave to work a three-day-a-week part-time schedule in the six-week period between his return to work after his first stroke and the date on which he suffered his second stroke.

“Even if light duty would have been Swanson’s preferred accommodation, the ADA does not entitle a disabled employee to the accommodation of his choice. Rather, the law entitles him to a reasonable accommodation in view of his limitations and his employer’s needs. Accordingly, permitting an employee to use paid leave can constitute a reasonable accommodation. And the Village’s accommodation (and, frankly, its general treatment of Swanson in the wake of his medical issues) seems quite reasonable here. In addition to permitting him to work a part-time schedule after his first stroke, the Village granted Swanson’s requests to extend his leave following his second stroke to ensure that he would remain on the Village’s health plan during his medically difficult time.”

Swanson v. Village of Flossmoor, 2015 WL 4496692 (7th Cir. 2015).