Federal Court Rules that Whether a Part-Time Assignment is a Reasonable Accommodation for a Full-Time Teacher with a Disability is Dependent on the Specific Facts

In a recent decision the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts has ruled that a request by a full-time teacher to work part-time for medical reasons may constitute a reasonable accommodation under the federal and Massachusetts statutes which bar discrimination against an employee with a qualifying disability. In Incutto v. Newton Public Schools, et al., Civil Action No. 16-12385-LTS, the court denied the school district’s motion for summary judgment and held that the teacher had presented sufficient evidence to let a jury decide the case. The plaintiff was employed as a full-time kindergarten teacher but after being diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition had requested that she be assigned part-time teaching duties. The school district argued that because her position was full-time, an essential function of her job was attendance during the regular school-day hours of 8:20 AM to 3:30 PM Monday through Friday. The parties agreed that other than being present full-time the teacher could perform all the other required functions of her teaching position.

The court concluded that whether full-time attendance was an “essential function” would have to be decided after trial. It pointed to evidence in the record that for each of ten school years between three and seven elementary school teaching positions were job-shared by two teachers in the district and that in the three years before that the plaintiff herself had worked as a part-time teacher by job-sharing with others. Based on this the court held that the plaintiff had produced enough evidence to go before a jury on the question whether full-time presence was an “essential function” of her job and, therefore, whether her requested accommodation was unreasonable.

This case demonstrates how fact-specific is the inquiry which an employer must make when an employee requests an accommodation. Evidence as to whether the employer has imposed the same requirement on all similarly-situated employees will necessarily be relevant to making that determination.

If you have questions or concerns about this issue, or about school law generally, please contact any of our attorneys.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.