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Eliminating Rotating Shift Not Required to Reasonably Accommodate Disabled Employee (Monday, October 15, 2012)

Terri Kallail held the position of Resource Coordinator for Alliant Energy Corporate Services (“Alliant”) at a Distribution Dispatch Center (“DDC”) in Cedar Rapids. Employees in the DDC monitor the distribution of electricity, gas, and steam throughout the service territory, schedule and route resources to respond to routine and emergency work, and handle outage and other emergency situations so as to restore service and maintain system integrity.  To provide coverage twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week, Alliant requires Resource Coordinators to work a rotating schedule.

                Kallail suffered from Type I diabetes and was dependent on insulin. By the fall of 2004, Kallail had increasing difficulty managing her diabetes while working a rotating shift. The rotating shift was causing her to experience erratic changes in blood pressure and blood sugar, and put her at a higher risk for diabetic complications and death.

                Kallail contacted the company’s human resource department about a possible accommodation related to her diabetes. Kallail’s physician, Dr. Melanie Stahlberg, completed and submitted a form, recommending that Kallail work only straight day shifts.

                On April 12, 2005, Jill Breitbach, Senior Human Resources Generalist, denied Kallail’s request for a straight day shift as an accommodation. As an alternative, Alliant said it would consider reassigning Kallail to another vacant position with a straight day shift for which she was qualified. Breitbach asked Kallail to e-mail a request if she wanted to proceed with identifying possible vacant positions for reassignments. Kallail requested that Sue Kleisch, Human Resources Compliance Manager, review the decision, but got no prompt response.

                Kallail notified Breitbach that she would consider reassignment to another position. The company provided Kallail with a list of three open positions for which she could apply through the normal process. Kallail was not interested in any of the three positions.  One required walking, which she was unable to do, the second paid less than her current position, and the third would have required her to relocate or to commute a significant distance to work.

                Kallail commenced leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.  While on leave, Kallail applied for a DDC Administrator position. Kallail was one of six applicants to receive an interview, but Alliant hired another candidate.

                Kallail ultimately returned to work with a restriction that she work only an eight-hour day-shift schedule until May 13, 2006. Alliant gave Kallail a temporary light-duty assignment.

                On March 20, 2006, Kallail submitted a second request for accommodation, and again requested a permanent day shift. Dr. Stahlberg again recommended that Kallail be permanently limited to straight day shifts to protect her from complications and risk throughout the rest of her life.

                Based on this restriction, Alliant did not reinstate Kallail to her Resource Coordinator position, but allowed her to use paid leave benefits while Alliant explored possible open positions for which she was qualified and to which she could be reassigned.

                On June 19, 2006, Alliant offered Kallail reassignment to a Customer Operations Assistant II. Kallail declined and applied for and received short-term disability benefits beginning June 23, 2006. Over the following several months, Kleisch and Breitbach continued to work with Kallail to find a position at Alliant. Effective January 1, 2007, she began to receive long-term disability benefits under Alliant’s disability plan.

                Kallail then filed discrimination charges, alleging that Alliant discriminated against her based on disability.  She filed a complaint in Iowa District Court, alleging that Alliant failed to make reasonable accommodation for her disability. Alliant removed the case to federal court. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Alliant.

                On appeal, Kallail claimed that Alliant violated the ADA by refusing to accept her proposal to work a regular eight-hour day shift as a Resource Coordinator. Alliant did not dispute that Kallail was disabled or that she suffered an adverse employment action. Alliant also did not dispute that Kallail possessed the requisite skill, education, experience, and training for her position. The disputed issue, however, was whether Kallail was able to perform the essential functions of her job, with or without reasonable accommodation.

                A rotating shift can be an essential function of a position.  The court of appeals agreed with the district court that it was an essential function of the Resource Coordinator position at Alliant. Alliant determined that the rotating shift is essential to the Resource Coordinator position, and listed it as a requirement on the written job description for the position. According to Alliant, the rotating shift provides enhanced experience and training for Resource Coordinators by allowing them to become familiar with all geographic territories in Alliant’s service area, and to receive on-the-job training by working with different partners and Senior Resource Coordinators. This enhanced training also allows Alliant to handle emergencies more effectively, because each Resource Coordinator summoned during an emergency will have experience working in all geographic areas and with all personnel. Shift rotation also enhances the non-work life of Resource Coordinators by spreading the less desirable shifts—nights and weekends—among all Resource Coordinators. If Kallail were switched to a straight day shift and not required to work the rotating shift, then other Resource Coordinators would have to work more night and weekend shifts.

                Because the rotating shift was an essential function of Kallail’s position, and since Kallail conceded that she is was unable to work a rotating shift without a reasonable accommodation, the court next addressed whether Kallail could perform the essential functions with a reasonable accommodation. It was Kallail’s burden to make a facial showing that reasonable accommodation was possible and that the accommodation would allow her to perform the essential functions of the job.

                Kallail’s requested straight day shift would not have allowed Kallail to perform the essential functions of her current position.  Instead, it would have eliminated one of those functions—the rotating shift. While job restructuring is a possible accommodation under the ADA, an employer need not reallocate or eliminate the essential functions of a job to accommodate a disabled employee.

                Additionally, reassignment to a vacant position may be a reasonable accommodation. If an employer has offered reassignment then the employee must offer evidence showing both that the position offered was inferior to her former job and that a comparable position for which the employee was qualified was open. Kallail did not present such evidence.

                Because Kallail was unable to perform the essential functions of her position, with or without reasonable accommodation, she failed to make a prima facie showing of discrimination under the ADA.  The judgment of the district court was affirmed.

Kallail v. Alliant Energy Corporate Services, Inc., 691 F.3d 925 (8th Cir. 2012).

· Michael R. Lied
· Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC
· One Technology Plaza, 211 Fulton Street, Suite 600, Peoria, IL 61602
· (309) 999-6311
· MLied@howardandhoward.com