Employment-Sixth Circuit Rules That Performing Physical Restraint On Detained Juveniles Is An Essential Job Function Under the ADA

In Wardia v. Department of Juvenile Justice, No. 12-5337 (6th Cir. 2013) (Unpublished Opinion), the plaintiff, John Wardia (“Wardia”), had brought suit against the defendant, the Department of Juvenile Justice (the “Department”), for wrongful termination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”). The district court granted summary judgment to the Department, and Wardia appealed.

In this case, Wardia had been terminated from his position as a Youth Worker at the Campbell County Regional Juvenile Detention Center, after an injury prevented him from performing physical restraint on detained juveniles. Wardia had argued in the district court that physical restraint of juveniles, in practice, was not an essential function of the job, and that the Department had unreasonably refused to grant him the permanent accommodation of a job in the facility control room.

In analyzing the case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) implicitly applied the rule that a former employee cannot prevail in a claim for wrongful termination under the ADA, if the employee’s disability prevented him or her from performing an essential function of the job even with a reasonable accommodation. The Court said that official Department policy treats the ability to perform physical restraints of juveniles as an essential function of Youth Workers. The written job description specifically lists performing restraints as one of the essential functions of the job, and Youth Workers are required to undergo safe-physical-management-skills training for three months upon entry and on an ongoing monthly basis. Thus, without reasonable accommodation, Wardia cannot do one essential functions of his job.

Further, the Court said that Wardia did not identify any reasonable accomodation that would help him. Having other employees assist him whenever restraint is required is not a reasonable accommodation, since the ADA does not require employers to accommodate individuals by shifting an essential job function onto others. Also, assignment to the facility control room is not the type of accommodation that an employer is required to provide under the ADA-it is a light-duty, temporary or rotating position and employers cannot be required to convert either rotating or temporary positions into permanent positions under the ADA. Thus, the Court affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the Department.