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Appeals Court reverses summary disposition granted against man's ADA claim

Wayne Henschel is an excavator operator who lost a leg, below the knee, in a motorcycle accident.  His employer, the Clare County Road Commission (CCRC)refused to attempt to accommodate him, leading to a lawsuit alleging violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

After he was fitted with a prosthesis, Henschel sought to return to his prior employment with the CCRC.  He was granted a medical waiver by the Michigan Traffic Safety Division, provided he limited his on-road commercial driving to the operation of vehicles with an automatic transmission.

The Road Commission wanted to transfer Henschel to a blade truck driver position, but required one of the 13 existing drivers to give up his truck and return to a laborer pay scale. Although two drivers had volunteered to make room for Henschel, they withdrew their consent when they learned they would be demoted to laborers.  The Road Commission then terminated Henschel because of his "inability to transport the excavator to the work site." 

Henschel then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which agreed with him that the CCRC had violated the ADA by refusing to attempt to accommodate Henschel's disability. Nevertheless, the CCRC rejected the EEOC finding and Henschel was forced to sue.  When the trial judge granted the Road Commission summary judgment, Henschel appealed and won in the higher court.  That court noted that the evidence supported the fact that the excavator was rarely transported from one work site to another, and that it was error to summarily determine that Henschel could not reasonably be accommodated in the position of excavator operator.

Since transporting the excavator was not listed as one of the "essential functions" of the excavator operator position, and since enlisting the CCRC semi-tractor operator to move it between work-sites would be only a "minimal" consequence of accommodation, the Court overturned the trial judge's summary decision. The higher court panel sent the case back for the trial judge to rule on the disputed factual issue of whether Henschel could operate the excavator safely with a prosthesis.

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