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Open-Ended Medical Leave Is Not A “Reasonable Accommodation”

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requires an employer to accommodate an employee’s disability unless the proposed accommodation would ultimately leave the employee unqualified for his or her job or create an undue burden on the employer.  In this case, plaintiff, a teacher suffering from anxiety and panic disorder, requested what amounted to an open-ended medical leave, which was denied.  Plaintiff claimed that he could have returned to work eventually and resumed teaching if the school district had accommodated his disability.  After he was terminated, he sued the district under the ADA.  A federal trial court granted summary judgment for the school district, which the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in New York, upheld in Petrone v. Hampton Bays Union Free School District, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 9775 (2d Cir. 2014).  The appellate court stated:


[Plaintiff] did not, and could not, provide [the school district] with any assurance that a temporary leave of absence would allow him to resume teaching. This is because neither … [plaintiff] nor his doctor ever informed the District of a date when he anticipated being able to return to work or indicated how long a leave of absence might have to last.


Thus, the court ruled, because the teacher could not work for an extended period of time, he was not a “qualified employee” under the ADA.