Seventh Circuit: Additional Guidance on ADA Accommodations and Medical Restrictions


All Employers with Employees in IL, IN, and WI


October 25, 2022



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Key Takeaways

  • Employers do not have to make a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Illinois law when an employee under a medical restriction is unable to perform an essential function of the job.
  • Employers should still exercise caution and consult with legal counsel when considering an adverse action against an employee protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (and/or state law) since violations could result in fines of up to $150,000 and damages in civil actions.


In Tate v. Dart, et al., the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals stated that a medical restriction that leaves an employee unable to perform an essential function of their position does not result in disability discrimination for a failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Illinois state law. Here, a correctional officer suffered a back injury at work and received time off. His return to work included medical restrictions to “avoid situations in which there is a significant chance of violence or conflict.” Upon his return, the employee was promoted to sergeant. As an accommodation, he was transferred to a unit where the chance of violence was low. He later sought an additional promotion to lieutenant provided he could obtain a medical clearance. He failed to do so, and the Sheriff’s Office declined his request for an accommodation and returned him to his rank as sergeant. The Sheriff’s Office cited lieutenants have to frequently respond to emergency situations involving disruptive inmate behavior which results in the use of force. Hence, responding to situations with a significant chance of violence or conflict was an essential function of the job.

The employee alleged disability discrimination and failure to accommodate; however, both the district court and the Seventh Circuit found in favor of the Sheriff’s Office and Cook County. In its ruling, the Court looked into whether responding to inmate violence was an essential function of the correctional lieutenant position. In this case, the job description listed responding to emergencies and using physical force as major components of the job. The data supported this description since there was at least one incident per week resulting in the use of force during a two-year period. The Court further said that since the medical restrictions used the word “avoid”, employers should be able to rely on the restriction’s plain meaning. The ruling provides significant guidance for employers on their evaluation of medical restrictions as it relates to whether employees can perform the essential functions of the job upon their return to duty. In addition, it shows the importance of having updated and accurate job descriptions.

Action Items

  1. Review and update “essential functions” in job descriptions.
  2. Update procedures on reviewing medical restrictions upon return to work.
  3. Train appropriate personnel on managing accommodation requests.
  4. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser. © 2023 ManagEase