A Coast Guard analyst unable to maintain regular and predictable attendance due to various debilitating conditions was not entitled to her requested accommodations of telecommuting and a later start time, according to a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Doak v. Johnson, Sec’y US Dep’t of Homeland Security (D.C. Cir. Aug. 18, 2015). Following her termination for due to her attendance after she had exhausted her FMLA leave, the plaintiff sued under the Rehabilitation Act, the ADA-equivalent applicable to federal employees. The Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the Coast Guard.
The plaintiff had various duties relating to a boat building project. The Court held that attendance was an essential function of her position because she needed to meet daily with project managers and staff and collaborate with other work groups. Granting her a later start time was not reasonable since she already had the latest start time and she was unable to arrive by that time regularly and often did not report to work at all, according to eh court.
Allowing her to telecommute was not a reasonable accommodation, the court held, because spontaneous meetings occurred frequently, meeting attendees often reviewed documents simultaneously, and some files could not be accessed remotely. Also, “the pace of work can sometimes be too fast for anything other than on-site presence,” the court noted.
The court also cited the impact of the plaintiff’s frequent and unpredictable absences and late arrivals on her co-workers. The plaintiff’s absences created an undue hardship on co-workers, who were required to “step in and pick up the slack” for her, often with little notice, “which negatively impact[ed] the accomplishment of the agency’s mission,” the court observed.