Contract Takes Precedence Over ADA Accommodations

Linda Faulkner was a corrections officer with the Douglas County, Nebraska Correctional Center. On August 6, 2012, Faulkner was involved in an inmate altercation. She suffered a left shoulder strain, hand contusion, contusion of the lumbar region, and a lumbar strain.

After these conditions resolved, Faulkner discovered that she suffered from cervical spondylosis with radiculopathy. Faulkner’s doctor determined that the condition was not job-related, but was instead the result of degenerative disc disease in Faulkner’s cervical spine. After treatment, Faulkner’s cervical spine condition was not completely resolved, and her doctor imposed the following permanent restrictions: “Lifting objects to shoulder level restricted to 20 pounds on an occasional basis and ten pounds on a frequent basis; overhead lifting restricted to 15 pounds or less on an occasional basis; no prolonged or repetitive overhead work; and no pushing or pulling greater than 40 pounds.”

The County eventually notified Faulkner that she could not permanently remain in a light-duty assignment. On January 31, 2014, Faulkner indicated that she could not perform the essential duties of a corrections officer. When the County terminated her, she brought a lawsuit under the Americans With Disabilities Act, contending that the County failed to reasonably accommodate her disability.

A federal court dismissed Faulkner’s lawsuit. The Court concluded that “it is undisputed that Faulkner had a disability and that her employment was terminated due to her disability. It is also undisputed that she could not perform the essential functions of a corrections officer position without accommodation. She contends that a reasonable accommodation would have been for the employer to have permitted her to work indefinitely in light-duty assignments without inmate contact, or in the lobby, or on night shift positions.

“The undisputed evidence shows, however, that officers assigned to lobby and night shift positions still must be able to perform the essential physical duties of a correctional officer, including the ability to restrain offenders or stop disturbances with use of force. With respect to light-duty assignments not involving inmate contact, the collective bargaining agreement gives priority for such assignments to officers with temporary disabilities resulting from on-the-job injuries. The CBA gives secondary priority for such positions to officers with temporary disabilities resulting from illnesses or injuries that are not job related.

“An employer need not reallocate or eliminate essential functions of a job to accommodate a disabled employee. Under the ADA, an accommodation that would cause other employees to work harder, longer, or be deprived of opportunities is not mandated. The ADA does not require that an employer take action inconsistent with the contractual rights of other workers under a collective bargaining agreement.

“The County was not required to eliminate the essential functions of the corrections officer position in order to accommodate Faulkner’s disability, nor was it required to violate the CBA. The accommodations Faulkner suggested would have required Douglas County to take one or both of these measures. As a matter of law, Faulkner’s suggested accommodations were not reasonable and would have created an undue burden for Douglas County.”

Faulkner v. Douglas County, 2016 WL 7413469 (D. Neb. 2016).