Argued: March 9, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Ohio at Akron. No. 5:15-cv-01601-John R. Adams,
P. Petrov, THORMAN PETROV GROUP CO., LPA, Cleveland, Ohio,
J. Schmitz, CRITCHFIELD, CRITCHFIELD & JOHNSTON, LTD.,
Wooster, Ohio, for Appellee.
P. Petrov, Lara S. Nochomovitz, THORMAN PETROV GROUP CO.,
LPA, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.
J. Schmitz, Kimberly L. Hall, CRITCHFIELD, CRITCHFIELD &
JOHNSTON, LTD., Wooster, Ohio, for Appellee.
Before: DAUGHTREY, GIBBONS, and WHITE, Circuit Judges.
CRAIG DAUGHTREY, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Hostettler was fired from the College of Wooster's Human
Resources Department when she was unable to return to work on
a full-time basis as she was recovering from postpartum
depression and separation anxiety. She sued under the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§
12101-12213 (2012); Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17; the Family and
Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. §§
2601-2654; and Chapter 4112 of the Ohio Revised
Code. The district court granted summary
judgment to Wooster on all claims. The lynchpin of the
district court's decision was its conclusion that
Hostettler did not make out a prima facie case under
the ADA because she could not meet an essential function of
the position-full-time work-and so was not otherwise
qualified for the job. Because genuine disputes of material
fact remain, we reverse the judgment of the district court
and remand for trial.
of the ADA
one in every five Americans has a disability. Matthew W.
Brault, U.S. Census Bureau, Americans With Disabilities: 2010
4 (2012). Yet at the time of the last census report, a mere
41% of people with disabilities between the ages of 21 and 64
were employed. Id. Although "physical or mental
disabilities in no way diminish a person's right to fully
participate in all aspects of society," 42 U.S.C. §
12101(a)(1), these numbers reflect the harsh reality that
"people with disabilities, as a group, occupy an
inferior status in our society, and are severely
disadvantaged . . . economically," id. §
passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 to
"assure equality of opportunity, full participation,
independent living, and economic self-sufficiency" for
individuals with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. § 12101(a)(8)
(pre-2008 amendments). To that end, the law broadly prohibits
"discriminat[ion] against a qualified individual on the
basis of disability" as it applies to aspects of
employment including hiring, advancement, and firing. 42
U.S.C. § 12112(a).
years of court decisions narrowly defining who qualifies as
an individual with disabilities left the ADA too compromised
to achieve its purpose. In response, Congress passed the ADA
Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) to invalidate those decisions
and to "restore the intent and protections of the
Americans with Disabilities Act." Pub. L. No. 110-325,
122 Stat. 3553. In passing the ADAAA, Congress reasserted its
goal of "provid[ing] clear, strong, consistent,
enforceable standards" to implement a
"comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of
discrimination against individuals with disabilities."
42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(1), (2). It is against that
background that this case must be viewed.
and Procedural Background
Hostettler was hired as an HR Generalist by the College of
Wooster in late summer 2013. At the time that she was
interviewed and took the position, she was four-months
pregnant. Throughout the hiring process, Hostettler was open
about her pregnancy. And during negotiations, when Hostettler
and Wooster's HR team discussed leave, Hostettler was
told that they would be willing to accommodate her pregnancy.
Wooster's official policy was to allow new employees 12
weeks unpaid maternity leave under the FMLA, even if they did
not otherwise qualify for leave under the law.
first five months-before her maternity leave-Hostettler's
employment seemed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement. As
an HR Generalist, Hostettler helped managers with employee
relations, including performance-improvement plans;
participated in recruiting new hires for the college; and
designed training programs, among other duties. She worked
full-time, regularly from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but
sometimes until 6:00 p.m. And when necessary, she organized
trainings or answered email and phone calls in the evenings
and on the weekends. Although Hostettler was working more
than 40 hours per week, she contends that the job required
"probably thirty, thirty-five" hours a week. She
explained that in the extra time she sought out more work so
that she could have something to do.
started her maternity leave at the beginning of February and
took her full 12 weeks. She was slated to return to work at
the end of April. But as the time to return to work
approached, Hostettler experienced severe postpartum
depression and separation anxiety. Hostettler's OB/GYN,
Dr. David Seals, testified that "she had one of the
worst cases of separation anxiety" that he had ever
seen. Seals explained that she did not seem like herself and
that she cried during almost every appointment with him. He
prescribed her an antidepressant.
also thought that it would be a bad idea for Hostettler to
return to work right away, and testified that he believed
that "it was medically necessary that [Hostettler] could
work a reduced schedule." He suggested that she return
to work on a part-time basis for the "foreseeable
future." He thought that Hostettler would be able to
return to work on a full-time basis in "a month or
two," and that the symptoms of postpartum depression and
separation anxiety rarely last longer than six months.
that she could not return to work, Hostettler met with her
direct supervisor, Marcia Beasley, and explained how she was
doing and that she would need more time before coming back.
According to Hostettler, Beasley was "sympathetic and
understood." And so Hostettler did not return to work at
the end of April.
beginning of May, Seals submitted to Wooster an Intent to
Return to Work Form (under the FMLA), stating that Hostettler
needed to work a reduced schedule of three days a week but
put no restrictions on her work activities. When Hostettler
returned to work, Beasley recommended that instead of working
two or three full days a week, Hostettler work five half days
a week. Seals submitted an addendum to his certification,
advising five half-time days a week. In response, Wooster
informed Hostettler that it would accommodate her part-time
schedule until June 30, at which time she should submit an
updated certification from her doctor. Hostettler returned to
work in late May, having been on leave longer than the
originally agreed 12 weeks.
parties disagree over what happened during the following two
months. Hostettler continued to suffer from depression and
anxiety. And if she had to work much later than noon- her
modified stop time-she would have panic attacks, during which
she would have difficulty breathing, thinking, and even
walking. But with an accommodated schedule, Hostettler
contends that she was able to do everything required of her
position. She stated that she responded to all
employee-relations issues, organized required trainings, and
handled recruiting matters. And if an issue arose when she
was out of the office, she either would handle it by
answering emails in the evening or Beasley would ask her to
address it the next morning. When another HR employee went on
maternity leave, Hostettler contends that she did not
"feel the pinch" of the department being down
another employee. Nor was Hostettler aware of any problems in
the department, in part because Beasley never mentioned any
in their conversations.
Hostettler's colleagues, Natalie Richardson, agreed with
Hostettler's assessment of her work situation. In a
declaration, Richardson explained that she believed that
Hostettler could do much of her work from home-a common
practice in the department-and knew that Hostettler was in
fact replying to work emails in the evenings when on her
modified schedule. Richardson also explained that during
Hostettler's modified schedule, she was not aware of any
"employee relations, recruiting, or training issues,
programs, or assignments that Ms. Hostettler failed to
complete." And more broadly, Richardson was