Under both the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, an employer has the obligation to reasonably accommodate an employee’s disability. From time to time, questions have arisen as to the circumstances under which a medical leave of absence is a reasonable accommodation that must be granted by an employer.
A recent case from Kentucky involved Erno Nandori, a police officer with the City of Bridgeport. In 2002, Nandori was injured in the course of his employment. While pursuing a wanted felon, Nandori fell off a fence and landed on his head and shoulder, suffering several ruptured discs in his neck and herniated discs in his lower back. As a result of this injury, Nandori was out of work with pay for nearly three years, returning to duty in late 2005.
In April 2009, Nandori suffered from a recurrence of the injury, experiencing sharp pains in his neck and shoulders, followed by numbness on his right side in August 2009. In light of these symptoms, on August 15, 2009, Nandori notified his supervisor that he was taking injury leave in order to receive medical treatment for his recurring injury.
The City requires employees on long-term injury leave to submit a doctor’s note every month verifying that they continue to be unfit for duty. Nandori submitted these notes as required, but none of the notes submitted indicated when, if ever, Nandori would be fit to return to duty. In 2010, Nandori attended an independent medical examination ordered by the City. The doctor reported that Nandori was “not a candidate for surgical treatment and was at a point of maximum medical improvement,” and that he could “perform activities as tolerated without any specific restriction.” The City then ordered Nandori back to work.
Because Nandori’s treating physician continued to certify that Nandori was unable to return to work during this same time, Nandori did not return to work. Eventually, the City’s Board of Police Commissioners voted to approve the City’s request that Nandori receive an involuntary service-related disability retirement. Nandori then sued, claiming the failure to grant him continued medical leave violated the City’s obligation to reasonably accommodate his disability.
A federal trial court ruled against Nandori. The Court reasoned that “under some circumstances, medical leave may be a reasonable accommodation under the Rehabilitation Act. However, the duty to make reasonable accommodations does not require an employer to hold an injured employee’s position open indefinitely while the employee attempts to recover, nor does it force an employer to investigate every aspect of an employee’s condition before terminating him based on his inability to work. The ADA does not require an employer to accommodate an employee who suffers a prolonged illness by allowing him an indefinite leave of absence.
“Here, there is no dispute of fact as to the specificity of Nandori’s requested accommodation. As Nandori admitted in his deposition, at the time of his retirement, Nandori had no sense of when he would be sufficiently recovered to perform the essential functions of his job. Based on the record before the Court, there is no evidence that the City at the time of the request had any assurance whatsoever that the accommodation would allow Nandori to perform the essential functions of his job. Thus, no reasonable jury could find that Nandori’s request for indefinite leave was reasonable, and Nandori has failed to establish a prima facie case of failure to accommodate.”
Nandori v. City of Bridgeport, 2014 WL 186430 (W.D. Ky. 2014).