A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Police Officer Who Could Not Drive Failed In His Disability Discrimination Suit

By on May 4, 2018 in ADA with 0 Comments

Jeremy Christensen worked as a patrol officer for the Warner Robins Police Department in the State of Georgia.  He completed a required 12-week certification training program.  However, he experienced shooting pains and leg cramps while driving on September 2, 2013. Nonetheless, he finished the program and began a one-year probationary period required for all new city employees.

Christensen experienced more shooting pains on October 8, 2013, and his hands shook uncontrollably.  Another officer had to drive him home from work.  He was advised to get a medical release from his physician, which he obtained from Dr. Al-Shroof.  However, the doctor did not clear petitioner to drive, so Christensen was assigned to a light-duty desk position in the Criminal Investigations Division. Eventually, Dr. Al-Shroof cleared petitioner to work with no restrictions except for a continued restriction against driving.

The City documented four specific disputes with Christensen during the one-year probationary period, the most serious of which was that Christensen only entered 10 of 270 supplemental reports to the CID’s electronic case management program in 2014.  As a result of these four disputes, the City terminated the employment of Christensen for unsatisfactory performance.

Christensen sued alleging disability discrimination.  The City in turn argued that Christensen was not a qualified individual under the ADA because he could not drive, and driving was admittedly an essential job function for a patrol officer.  Christensen disagreed and argued that he was able to work light duty for 10 months, and that he was qualified to perform the light duty position.  He seemed to argue that he was entitled to indefinite light duty.  The Court disagreed.  “The City accommodated Christensen’s disability by giving him light duty work that did not require him to drive. . . . That accommodation did not enable him to perform the essential function of a patrol officer; he still could not drive.”

Christensen further argued that the City could have continued him on light duty, and its past efforts to accommodate his driving restriction showed that the City could make long-term accommodations.  The Court again disagreed.  “Further, the City’s past accommodations, which exceeded the requirements of the ADA, do not bind the City to anything outside the requirements of the ADA.” The Court also agreed that the City offered valid, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Christensen’s employment.

For these reasons, the Court granted the City’s motion for summary judgment.  The case shows that the elimination of an essential job functions is never required.  Christensen had to prove he could perform all the essential job functions.  The Court said that the mere fact that the City tried to accommodate Christensen for a lengthy period of time could not be held against the City.  This case can be found at Christensen v. City of Warner Robins, GA., 2018 WL 1177250 (D. GA 2018).

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John H. Geaney

About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, an executive committee member and shareholder with Capehart Scatchard, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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