MB&J Earns Disability Discrimination Law Victory

Court Rules Employer Did Not Have to Accommodate Employee Who Wished to Work Remotely

In the recently decided case of Mulloy v. Acushnet Co., the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that an employer was not required to grant an employee’s request to work at a remote location to accommodate his sensitivity to chemicals used in the employer’s manufacturing process. Laurence J. Donoghue of Morgan Brown & Joy represented Acushnet Company.

The facts are as follows: Acushnet hired Michael Mulloy to work as an engineer in Acushnet’s golf ball manufacturing plant.  His job involved maintenance of the machines that Acushnet used to manufacture golf balls.  Mulloy experienced respiratory problems and blamed those problems on certain chemicals used in the manufacturing process at the plant.  His respiratory problems gradually worsened, and he requested permission to work remotely from Acushnet’s corporate headquarters.  He proposed that Acushnet could accommodate his “disability” by allowing him to work on the plant’s machinery by using web cameras or similar technology. Because an essential part of Mulloy’s job required interaction with the machine itself, Acushnet denied Mulloy’s request and was forced to terminate his employment.Mulloy sued, alleging that Acushnet discriminated against him on the basis of a disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Massachusetts ant-discrimination statute, Massachusetts G.L. c. 151B. The District Court granted summary judgment to Acushnet after concluding that Mulloy was unable to perform the essential functions of his job with or without reasonable accommodation. The Court noted that physical attendance at the worksite is an essential function of most jobs. As to Mulloy’s job in particular, the Court found that an electrical engineer needed to be at the plant because the job involved collaborative problem-solving that could not be accomplished effectively from a remote location. Accordingly, no reasonable accommodation would have permitted Mulloy to perform this essential job function.

Mulloy subsequently appealed to The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s judgment, holding that Mulloy was not a “qualified individual with a disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Massachusetts law because the accommodation he proposed, transfer to a remote site, was unreasonable in that he would be unable to fulfill his essential troubleshooting functions from that location.

Employers are increasingly faced with requests from employees to work from home or from remote sites as an accommodation to disabilities.  Mulloy reinforces the proposition that when actual on-site presence can be shown to be necessary for the proper performance of the job, the employer retains the right to insist upon such presence.
Click here to see a copy of the court’s opinion.