ADA Accommodation: Court Reporter
Could not Dictate What She Would Get
Insistence Upon Restoration to Former Job
Was Unreasonable, 7th Circuit Rules
In Gratzl v Office of the Chief Judges of the 12th, 18th, 19th and 22nd Judicial Circuits, __F3rd__, Case No. 08-3134 (7th Cir. April 7, 2010), the plaintiff was an electronic court reporter specialist who had been assigned exclusively to the control room of the DuPage County courthouse. She had chronic incontinence that demanded she get to a restroom within minutes of feeling the urge to urinate, a fact apparently unknown to the employer. After she had served in this capacity for five years, the State of Illinois court system eliminated the Court Reporter Specialist job held by Gratzl.
Her employer was willing to keep her on, but she would be entering the standard rotation between courtrooms expected of all official court reporters working in the courthouse. Gratzl then disclosed her health issues and asked that she be excused from in-court reporting duties. This proposal was rejected, but the court administrator suggested excusing her from reporting jury trials, confining her assignments to courtrooms adjacent to a restroom, and establishing a “high sign” she could use with the judge to take a break.
Gratzl refused these alternatives and insisted on being returned to her old job in the control room, and when the employer declined to do so, she refused the job of official court reporter. When she was terminated for insubordination she sued under the ADA.
The Seventh Circuit upheld the trial court’s finding that she was not a “qualified individual with a disability.” Although it suggested, but made no determination, that the ability to eliminate waste was a “major life activity” – other appellate courts had done so – the court sidestepped such a holding and focused on qualification. The court found that in 2006, when her job was eliminated and all reporters now had to rotate through the courtrooms, such job activity became an essential function. “She is not qualified for the job,” the court concluded.
She also struck out with the argument that the employer was required to accommodate her by restoration to the old job. Nothing illegitimate occurred when, in response to a directive from the Illinois Coordinator of Court Reporting Services, the chief judge in Wheaton eliminated her specialist position. Since the job elimination was facially proper, the duty to accommodate entailed reasonable alternatives, none of which had to provide Gratzl something she requested or preferred. The possibility that signaling for a restroom break might cause her embarrassment and provoke resentment from other court personnel was not an argument with merit. “It was she, not the court, who resisted the effort to accommodate,” the court concluded.