7th Circuit revives Anderson transit worker’s ADA claim

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A mechanic’s helper with the City of Anderson Transit System won the right to pursue his claims that his firing violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Marc Shell worked in his position for CATS for a dozen years and had hearing and vision impairments. The job description for his position required him to occasionally drive city buses to field locations, but Shell’s disability prevented him from obtaining a commercial driver’s license.

When a new mayor was elected, Shell was fired after a new CATS director enforced the job description and Shell could not get a CDL. The federal District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Anderson, but the 7th Circuit reversed Monday in Marc Shell v. Kevin Smith, in his official capacity as Mayor of the City of Anderson, et al., 14-2958.

“On appeal, Shell challenges only the district court’s entry of judgment as a matter of law on his ADA claim. We agree that a jury should decide whether the City violated the ADA,” wrote District Judge Theresa L. Springmann, sitting by designation from the Northern District of Indiana. Shell had also brought a claim before the District Court that his firing was politically motivated, but that matter wasn’t before the circuit court.

The panel held that the city could only require Shell to obtain a CDL if driving a bus was an essential function of the job of mechanic’s helper. The job description spells out numerous responsibilities but qualifies driving duties as something the position “may” require “occasionally.” Springmann wrote the job description had not changed during Shell’s tenure, yet driving was never part of his regular duties.

“It is difficult to see how the duty could be deemed essential at the summary judgment stage,” she wrote. “… Because there is evidence and reasonable inferences favorable to both parties, and the factual record does not establish as a matter of law that driving a bus was an essential function … this case must be allowed to proceed to a jury,” the panel concluded, remanding the matter to Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

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