A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Employee Defeats School Board’s Motion for Summary Judgment in Case Involving Possible Use of Air-Conditioned Bus

By on October 21, 2015 in ADA with 0 Comments

The Clayton County School District in Atlanta, Georgia employed Edith Hill as a bus driver.  During the school year 2009-2010 Hill was assigned a non-air-conditioned bus for special needs students.  The temperatures inside the bus rose above 100 degrees and Hill found she was experiencing serious difficulty in breathing.  She filed an “Employee Request for Reasonable Accommodation” on August 11, 2009 stating that extreme heat impaired her ability to breathe.

Hill attached two doctors’ notes, one from a pulmonologist who said she had an airway-related physical impairment that limited her breathing abilities.  If she were provided with an air-conditioned bus she could do the job, according to the pulmonologist.

On August 13, 2009, the School District placed Hill on unpaid leave while it considered her request.  On August 28, 2009, the School District sent Hill a letter denying her request because all air-conditioned buses had already been assigned to other drivers.  The letter did not mention that the District was in the process of obtaining more air-conditioned buses.

There was a dispute at trial as to whether the School District offered Hill one of these new air-conditioned buses.  Hill said it never happened; several employees of the School District said that the offer was made.  Hill remained out of work through 2009 and into early 2010. The School District terminated her employment on March 2, 2010.  Hill then sued under the ADA for discrimination.

The District Court ruled in favor of the School District and dismissed Hill’s law suit, but the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in favor of Hill on the disability discrimination issue.  The Court first noted that there was conflicting evidence on whether the School Board ever made an offer to Hill about using one of the new air-conditioned buses.  None of the School Board’s witnesses actually recalled making the offer to Hill.  The Court added:

Even assuming the School District did make such an offer, there is still a dispute as to whether making Hill wait two months was reasonable.  In its motion for summary judgment, the School District argued that providing an air-conditioned bus any earlier would have constituted an undue hardship, but does not provide sufficient evidence of what the hardship would be.  All the School District said was that it would have had to upset its seniority-sensitive bus-allocation process.

 The Court reviewed prior case law where employers had made employees wait a few months before making an offer of reasonable accommodation.  It said that in all of the prior cases, the employer paid the employee during the waiting period before a decision was made on the offer or allowed the employee to work during the waiting period.  The Court said, “Here, by contrast, two months was more than enough time for the School District to overcome any administrative hurdles in providing Hill with an air-conditioned bus.”

 What this means is that Hill has an opportunity to present her case before a jury.  The lesson in a case like this is that employers must act promptly when it comes to requests for reasonable accommodation.  In this case it was hard for the School Board to argue that Hill had no right to the accommodation request.  Hill had in years past driven an air-conditioned bus. The case also shows the importance of making a written offer of accommodation.  Throughout the hearing process the parties fought over the issue of whether an offer of accommodation had been made, even though this could have easily been resolved by documenting this in a written offer letter. The case can be found at Hill v. Clayton Sch. Dist., No.13-14951, (11th Cir. 2015).

Capehart Scatchard is a proud sponsor of Kids’ Chance of New Jersey, which is devoted to helping provide college scholarship funds to children whose parents have been seriously injured or killed in a work accident. John Geaney and Lora Northen are members of the Board of Kids’ Chance, and Carol Wright is an Advisory Committee Board member. Governor Chris Christie, in recognition of the work Kids’ Chance of New Jersey has done in awarding scholarships to children, has proclaimed Novermber 2 to November 6, 2015  Kids’ Chance Awareness Week. Click here to view the proclamation. If you are interested in helping to provide support for the scholarship fund, please contact the undersigned.



About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.


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