Employment-First Circuit Rules That Obtaining A License Is An Essential Job Function For ADA Purposes

In Jones v. Nationwide Life Insurance Company, No. 12-1414 (1st Cir. 2012), the plaintiff, Mark Jones (“Jones”), was appealing the district court’s summary judgment for his employer, Nationwide Life Insurance Company (“Nationwide”), in his suit claiming discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) and State disability law.

In this case, Jones had repeatedly failed to pass an examination to receive a license to become an investment advisor representative required by Nationwide of all persons in Jones’ position, by a date of which he had many months’ notice. Eventually, he requested that the date be extended due to his medical condition. When Nationwide declined, and Jones declined to pursue an open alternate position at lesser pay, his employment was terminated by Nationwide for failure to have the required license. This suit ensued.

In analyzing the case, the First Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) noted that one element of a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA and the applicable State law is that the plaintiff is qualified to perform the essential functions of his job, with or without a reasonable accommodation. Here the Court ruled that obtaining the license was an essential function of Jones’ job. This resulted because Nationwide indisputably characterized obtaining the license as an essential function of Jones’ job, referring to the license as a condition of employment and indicating that the failure to obtain the license could result in job termination. All Nationwide employees with the same job as Jones had obtained the license.

The Court said that elimination of an essential job function-such as the need to obtain a license-is not a reasonable accommodation. Further, Jones’ request for an extension of time to get the license is not a reasonable accommodation. The request did not detail how any purported disability affected his ability to pass the exam and obtain the license, and in any event it was made too late and did not establish any basis for concluding that it would help Jones pass the exam. The Court concluded that, since Jones could not pass the test to acquire the license, he could not perform his job’s essential functions, and there was no reasonable accommodation to help him. As such, the Court ruled that Jones’ could not make out a prima facie case for discrimination under the ADA and State disability law, so that his claim in this case fails. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in Nationwide’s favor.