The plaintiff drove an excavator, which had an automatic transmission. The plaintiff moved the excavator from one jobsite to another by hauling it on a trailer behind a semi-truck, which had a manual transmission. While other employees sometimes hauled the excavator, the plaintiff moved it about 70% of the time. Due to a motorcycle accident, the plaintiff had his left leg amputated. When he sought to return to work, his employer terminated him because he was unable to drive the semi-truck to transport the excavator, which the employer considered to be an essential function of the position. The plaintiff sued under the ADA.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s holding that driving the semi-truck was an essential function of the excavator’s job. The appeals court held that a jury should decide whether driving the semi was an essential function because some facts suggested that it was not. These included the transporting the excavator was not on the excavator’s job description but was on that of the truck/tractor position; the excavator’s job description did not list driving a manual transmission vehicle as an essential function; and since the excavator remained at the work site “90% of the time,” hauling it was a “marginal time investment” for the excavator operator. The appeals court also noted that the employer did not seek volunteers to transport the excavator from the truck driver or other excavator operators, suggesting impliedly that the employer should have done so. The employer’s reference in the job description to “other duties as assigned” was not sufficient to establish that it was an essential function, the court held. Henschel v. Claire County Road Commission (6th Cir. December 13, 2013).