Sometimes, an applicant or employee is not qualified for a job because of a basic inability to adequately perform its essential functions.
At other times, disqualification occurs because the plaintiff lacks required credentials for the position.
That was the case here.
Vanessa Reed was employed as a registered nurse for the Dallas Veterans Administration Medical Center, North Texas Health Care System (Dallas VA).
She began her tenure of employment in June of 2015.
She Objects to Basement Move
Initially, Reed worked in a telenursing unit at a facility in Dallas
In December of 2015, the Dallas VA notified her that her unit would be moving to a basement. It would share space with wound care nurses.
Reed has atopic dermatitis. She was worried that working near the wound care nurses would make her susceptible to skin infections.
For that reason, she asked to relocate to a different work area.
After concluding that the request was not supported by sufficient medical documentation, the Dallas VA denied it.
However, it gave her some equipment designed to reduce contact with basement surfaces.
It also worked with its HR department to find a potential reassignment.
At the end of March of 2016, Reed’s nursing license expired.
The Dallas VA has a legal obligation to make sure all its nurses have current licenses. If they do not, it runs afoul of federal law.
The employer acted swiftly in Reed’s case. It terminated her employment on the day after he nursing license expired.
Reed responded by filing an internal complaint that alleged unlawful disability discrimination.
More specifically, Reed accused the Dallas VA of terminating her employment because she has atopic dermatitis.
The agency rejected her administrative complaint as well as a subsequent internal appeal.
Federal Suit Alleges Bias
Reed then filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Secretary of the VA. She alleged that the employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against her based on her dermatitis. She said it refused to accommodate her disability and retaliated against her.
Significantly, Reed conceded at her deposition that her supervisor terminated her employment because her license had expired.
A lower court ruled in favor of the employer, and Reed appealed.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.
Although Reed said the employer violated the ADA, the federal appeals court noted that the Rehabilitation Act is the exclusive remedy for federal employees, like Reed, who seek to allege unlawful discrimination based on disability.
For that reason, the court evaluated Reed’s claims under the Rehabilitation Act.
To prove unlawful disability discrimination or retaliation, the appeals court explained, Reed had to show there was a causal connection between her disability and her termination from employment.
Reed did not make this required showing the court said.
In fact, she did not produce any evidence showing that the employer terminated her employment because of her disability.
Evidence Was Undisputed
Instead, the undisputed evidence showed that the employer terminated Reed’s employment because she did not maintain an active registered nurse license.
Maintenance of an active license was a condition of continued employment, it said.
There are no exceptions to the employer’s rule that nurses maintain all qualifications required for their appointment.
Reed’s accommodation claim could not succeed for the same reason. To prove denial of accommodation, employees must show they are qualified.
But Reed was not qualified for the simple reason that she did not have a required license, the court held.
Reed. v. McDonough, No. 21-10380, 2021 WL 4452357 (5th Cir. 9/28/21).