The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a ruling that a woman fired from her job after a spinal injury was not a qualified individual under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In June 2016, Paula McAllister underwent spinal surgery following a car accident that left her with serious head and back injuries. Shortly after her injury, McAllister sought short-term disability benefits and medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.
In the months following her surgery, McAllister’s treating physicians repeatedly concluded she could not yet return to work as a machine operator at Innovation Ventures LLC. Innovation provided her with medical leave and short-term disability benefits while she sought treatment, but once it became clear that McAllister likely could not return to work until at least February 2017, Innovation fired McAllister in December 2016.
McAllister then applied for long-term disability benefits and Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, and the Social Security Administration granted her SSDI benefits in February 2018 to apply retroactively to the date of her accident.
McAllister ultimately sued Innovation, alleging the company failed to accommodate her under the ADA and bringing several causes of action for discrimination. However, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana granted Innovation’s motion for summary judgment, finding McAllister was not qualified under the ADA on her failure-to-accommodate claim.
The 7th Circuit Court affirmed Thursday in Paula McAllister v. Innovation Ventures, LLC, 20-1779, finding McAllister had failed to create a genuine issue of material fact to survive summary judgment that she could “perform the essential functions” of her machine operator job during August and September 2016, even with accommodations.
“Given this failure to demonstrate a capability to perform the essential functions asked of a machine operator, McAllister is not a qualified individual under the ADA,” Senior Judge Joel Flaum wrote for the 7th Circuit panel.
The panel likewise found that McAllister’s post hoc assertions that she could have performed lighter work or a desk job during that time “ring hollow,” concluding that she failed to create a genuine dispute of material fact that she could perform another job with or without accommodations. Finding the record established the opposite as true, it determined she could not work in any role at Innovation.
As such, the panel concluded the district court did not err in granting summary judgment.
“Accordingly, the district court correctly found that any request for additional leave was not ‘reasonable,’ and therefore, McAllister did not establish a genuine issue that she was a qualified individual under the ADA. Having decided McAllister does not qualify as a disabled individual under the ADA, we decline to reach the district courts conclusions about equitable estoppel,” Flaum concluded.