Printed from

Appeals court to reconsider fired Ford worker's telecommuting case

Posted On: Sep. 2, 2014 12:00 AM CST

The federal appeals court in Cincinnati has voted to reconsider en banc an April ruling in which an appellate panel had reinstated a disability discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a disabled Ford Motor Co. worker who was denied a telecommuting arrangement and terminated.

Jane Harris, who acted as an intermediary between steel suppliers and stampers, the companies that use steel to produce parts for Ford, suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, according to the 2-1 ruling by a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Ford Motor Co..

In 2009, her supervisors denied Ms. Harris' request to telecommute as needed as an accommodation for her disability, concluding her position was not suitable for it, according to the ruling. Ms. Harris filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC in April 2009, and she was terminated later that year.

In 2011, the EEOC filed suit on Ms. Harris' behalf, charging Ford had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to accommodate Ms. Harris' disability and by retaliating against her for filing a charge with the EEOC.

The U.S. District Court in Ann Arbor, Michigan, granted Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford summary judgment dismissing the case, ruling in part that Ms. Harris did not qualify for the failure-to-accommodate claim because of excessive absenteeism.

In reinstating the case in its April ruling, the 6th Circuit appellate panel's majority opinion held that Ford has the burden of proving Ms. Harris' physical presence is an “essential function of her position.”

“Advancing technology has diminished the necessity of in-person contact to facilitate group conversations,” it said.

Tuesday's order, which follows a vote by a majority of the appellate court's judges to rehear the case, vacates this ruling pending a new opinion in the case.