In Hostettler v. College of Wooster, No. 17-3406 (6th Cir. 2018), the Sixth Circuit concluded that full-time presence in the workplace is not always an essential job function. Employers risk violating the American’s with Disability Act (ADA) if they fail to analyze the actual need for full-time work for a specific position.
Hostettler was four-months pregnant when she began as an HR Generalist at The College of Wooster. Following the end of her maternity leave, Hostettler requested additional leave for extreme postpartum depression and separation anxiety, which was granted by the college. Hostettler eventually returned to work on a reduced schedule, which the college allowed for a few months, but, ultimately terminated her months later for failing to return “to [her] assigned position…in a full–time capacity.” As a result, Hostettler filed suit alleging violations of the ADA, FMLA, and R.C. 4112.02. The Sixth Circuit held, “Wooster may have preferred that Hostettler be in the office 40 hours a week. And it may have been more efficient and easier on the department if she were. But those are not the concerns of the ADA.… An employer cannot deny a modified work schedule as unreasonable unless the employer can show why the employee is needed on a full-time schedule; merely stating that anything less than full-time employment is per se unreasonable will not relieve an employer of its ADA responsibilities.”
In McClellan v. Midwest Machining, Inc., No. 17-19992 (6th Cir. 2018), the Court allowed an Equal Pay Act and Title VII pregnancy bias suit to proceed even though McClellan signed an agreement releasing all claims and did not refund a severance payment paid to her in consideration for a legal waiver. The Court also held that Title VII and Equal Pay Act claims are not subject to the common law tender-back doctrine, which allows an innocent party to void an agreement if the agreement was tainted by duress, fraud, or mistake so long as the benefits received are tendered back.
McClellan, a telemarketer for Midwest since 2008, became pregnant in fall of 2015. Shortly thereafter, she was terminated in November of 2015. On the date of her termination, the President of Midwest allegedly handed her a document stating, “that she needed to sign it if [she] wanted any severance.” McClellan filed a charge with the EEOC, then filed suit, alleging that Midwest terminated her because of her pregnancy, among other things. She testified she felt “pressured” and “bullied” into signing the waiver without a lawyer and later explained that she did not understand that the claims she released were discrimination claims. The Court reasoned “requiring recently discharged employees to return their severance before they can bring claims under Title VII and the Equal Pay Act would serve only to protect malfeasant employers at the expense of employees’ statutory protections at the very time that those employees are most economically vulnerable…. Rather, the sum paid shall be deducted from any award determined to be due to the injured employee.”