Reasonable Accommodation Is Not Required to Go Beyond Essential Job Functions


Because the request to waive an educational requirement for a pay increase would not enable the employee to do his essential job functions, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found that the employer was not obligated to provide a reasonable accommodation.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, absent an undue hardship, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities in order to enable them to perform their essential job functions or to enjoy equal privileges and benefits of employment as non-disabled employees.

In Bruno v. Wells-Armstrong, the employee was selected for a deputy fire chief position that required a bachelor’s degree, although he lacked one and was unable to complete college courses due to a heart condition. When he was required to enroll in college courses to keep his position, he requested, and the employer agreed, to waive the requirement with a doctor’s note. Subsequently, the employer conditioned additional compensation on the employee’s enrollment in college courses. The employee asked the employer to waive this requirement as a reasonable accommodation. His request was denied, and he resigned. He then sued, alleging a failure to accommodate, among other things.

The Seventh Circuit held that the request to waive the educational requirement would not enable him to do his essential job functions, and therefore was not a request for reasonable accommodation. According to the Seventh Circuit, he was not entitled to the increase just because he performed his essential job functions. Rather, “he would have needed to go beyond his duties to obtain the pay bump.” And the employer did not need to provide an accommodation to enable him to go beyond his essential job functions.

Interestingly, the Seventh Circuit did not address whether a pay increase conditioned on an educational requirement would be a privilege or benefit of employment enjoyed by non-disabled employees. In this case, it was likely not raised by the parties, presumably because the employee had an individual employment contract and was in the unusual situation of holding a position for which the educational requirement had already been waived for him – and thus, this particular conditional pay increase was likely not an option for other employees. If it had been a standard requirement, however, the ADA would have obligated the employer to consider waiving the requirement as a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship.