In Kallail v. Alliant Energy Corporate Services, Inc., 2011 WL 1833347 (8th Cir. Sept. 4, 2012), the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that because shift rotation was an essential function of the Resource Coordinator position, Alliant was not required to provide a permanent day shift to accommodate a Resource Coordinator's disability.
Kallail requested a steady day-shift accommodation for medical complications related to her diabetes and peripheral vascular disease. According to Kallail, rotating shifts undermined her ability to control her diabetes and put her at a higher risk for diabetic complications and death.
Alliant denied Kallail's request for a steady day shift schedule, asserting that that rotating shifts were an essential function of the position. Alliant also offered to reassign Kallail to other vacant positions with a steady day shift, but she rejected the offer and filed suit. Kallail claimed that Alliant violated the ADA by not permitting her to perform her Resource Coordinator position with a steady day shift.
The court ruled in favor of Alliant, finding that Alliant adequately demonstrated that rotating shifts were an essential function of the position. The Court initially observed that the written job description for the position expressly identified rotating shifts as a requirement. The Court also relied on evidence Alliant produced showing that (1) rotating shifts provided enhanced experience and training for the position by allowing the Resource Coordinators to become familiar with all of Alliant’s geographic areas and personnel, (2) the enhanced training allowed Alliant to handle emergencies more effectively and (3) rotating shifts enhanced the non-work life of the Resource Coordinators by spreading the less desirable shifts among all of them. Finally, the court also observed that, while one of Alliant's other offices used permanent eight-hour shifts, that office performed different tasks, and, therefore, these facts did not undermine Alliant's rationale for using a rotating shift in Kallial's office.
The court's decision demonstrates that employers should carefully consider the language and rationale for the content of written job descriptions. In this case, it was important that the rotating shift requirement was included in the written job description; it was more important, however, that the employer was able to clearly articulate how and why rotating shifts were important to the employer’s operations such that the position would not be the same without them.