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Rehabilitation Act-Disability Discrimination

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//November 27, 2023//

Rehabilitation Act-Disability Discrimination

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//November 27, 2023//

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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: Tamica Smithson v. Lloyd Austin, III

Case No.: 22-2566

Officials: Rovner, Hamilton, and Kirsch, Circuit Judges.

Focus:Rehabilitation Act-Disability Discrimination

The Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) oversees schools dedicated to military families, and since 2004, Smithson has been employed as a science teacher within this organization. Smithson grapples with various medical conditions, such as migraines, intracranial hypertension, affective disorder, vertigo, and ADHD. These conditions, coupled with necessary medications, have presented challenges in areas including balance, walking, driving, breathing, vision, speech, and memory.

In 2010, Smithson initially secured accommodations, including an occasional flexible start time and permission to be seated during part of the teaching day. From 2014 to 2016, additional accommodation requests by Smithson were mostly approved. However, when she sought a flexible duty reporting time of up to two hours, Principal Villareal responded by approving the use of sick leave for any absence up to two hours, provided it didn’t unduly disrupt the school schedule. Later, Smithson communicated that she would consistently be late but would arrive before her first instructional section, using sick leave as needed. Amid the pandemic, Smithson transitioned to full-time remote work in DODEA’s Virtual School.

Smithson filed a lawsuit under the Rehabilitation Act, alleging disability discrimination and failure to accommodate due to the requirement of using half-day sick leave for late arrivals. The Seventh Circuit upheld the summary judgment in favor of DODEA, asserting that in-person attendance was a fundamental aspect of Smithson’s role, and her recurrent need to miss up to two hours each morning demonstrated an inability to fulfill this essential function. The court emphasized that a frequent two-hour delay significantly differs from the occasional 15-minute delay permitted under Smithson’s original accommodation.

Affirmed.

Decided 11/20/23

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