On October 17, 2017, on the heels of its landmark decision in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer in its unpublished opinion in Golden v. Indianapolis Housing Agency, No. 17-1359 (7th Cir. Oct. 17, 2017), reiterating that “[a]n employee who needs long-term medical leave…is not a ‘qualified individual’ under the ADA.” In Golden, the plaintiff – a fifteen year employee of the Indianapolis Housing Agency (“IHA”) –was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2014. After taking twelve weeks of leave under the FMLA, the plaintiff remained unable to return to work. At that time, her physician described the plaintiff’s condition as “ongoing” and noted that she would be incapacitated “until released.” Thereafter, IHA granted the plaintiff an additional four weeks of unpaid leave with the understanding that at the conclusion of those four weeks, she would be required to return to work or would be automatically terminated.
The day before the plaintiff’s additional four weeks of leave was set to end, the plaintiff requested an unpaid leave of absence of up to six months. IHA denied the plaintiff’s request for leave and terminated the plaintiff’s employment the following day. The plaintiff filed suit under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, arguing that IHA was required to provide her with an additional six months of unpaid leave as an accommodation for her disability. The district court granted summary judgment for IHA and the plaintiff appealed.
The Seventh Circuit ruled that it was bound by its own precedent in Severson, in which it held that “[t]he ADA is an antidiscrimination statute, not a medical-leave entitlement.” The Court held that “while [it] sympathize[d] with Golden’s plight,” “a request for six months of medical leave in addition to the twelve weeks required by the FMLA removes an employee from the protected class under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.”
In a concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Rovner reluctantly joined in the judgment of her colleagues, but decried a per se rule which would exclude an employee from seeking a multi-month leave of absence regardless of a showing of hardship to the employer, finding such a rule to be “nonsensical.”
Stay tuned, as it seems inevitable that the Supreme Court will eventually weigh in on the issue of whether, and to what extent, the ADA requires leave as an accommodation.