Disability Discrimination Claim Survives Summary Judgment, in Light of Factual Dispute as to Whether Job Function Was “Essential”

In Egers v. Allstate Insurance Company, 19-CV-4348 (JS)(ARL), 2024 WL 923122 (E.D.N.Y. March 4, 2024), the court denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim of disability discrimination asserted under the New York State Human Rights Law.

From the decision:

Plaintiff’s claims of employment discrimination and failure to accommodate each require the Court to find that Plaintiff could perform the “essential functions” of his job if provided with a reasonable accommodation. … Thus, to determine whether Plaintiff is “disabled” within the meaning of NYHRL, or whether Plaintiff could perform the essential functions of his job with a reasonable accommodation, the Court must have a clear understanding the “essential functions” of Plaintiff’s job. In particular, and as relevant here, the Court must determine whether “trying cases” was an essential function of Plaintiff’s job at Allstate.

In its Motion, Defendant argues that “trying cases” was an essential function of Plaintiff’s job as a trial and litigation attorney at Allstate. (Support Memo at 9-10.) In support of its argument, Defendant provides the following evidence: (1) a sworn declaration of Allstate representative and Plaintiff’s former supervisor, Karen L. Lawrence, stating “trial work is identified in [Plaintiff’s] job description as a Key Responsibility and is an essential function of his position” and trial development was a “performance metric[ ] for which” Plaintiff and other attorneys in his position were evaluated; and (2) Plaintiff’s written job description, which states Plaintiff was responsible for “prepar[ing] for and conduct[ing] … trials” and had the “key responsibility” of “[s]econd chair[ing] cases with Trial Attorneys and Senior Trial Attorneys as needed.” In opposition, Plaintiff argues trying cases was not an essential function of his job because: (1) jury trials are not listed as an essential component of his job in his job description; (2) he did not conduct jury trials from 2010-2016; and (3) Plaintiff’s contemporaries at Allstate were not required to conduct jury trials.

Here, in light of the factors considered by courts in determining an employee’s “essential job functions” under NYHRL, and upon review of the evidence submitted by the parties, there exists a genuine dispute as to whether “trying cases” was an essential component of Plaintiff’s job at Allstate. Although Courts should give “considerable deference” to an employer’s account of what functions are “essential” to the jobs they maintain, the identification of essential job functions is a “fact-specific inquiry.” Plaintiff and Defendant have each brought forth relevant facts and evidence supporting their respective opposing positions on whether “trying cases” was a job function that was “essential” to Plaintiff’s position at Allstate. Upon the record presented, the Court cannot determine as a matter of law whether “trying cases” was, in fact, essential to Plaintiff’s job without weighing the evidence and making credibility determinations, which the Court may not do at this summary judgment stage of the litigation.

[Citations omitted.]

Based on this, the court denied defendant’s motion as to plaintiff’s discrimination claims.

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