Hwang v. Kansas State University, No. 13-3070 (10th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff-appellant Grace Hwang signed a written one-year contract to teach classes over three academic terms at Kansas State University. But before the fall term began, plaintiff received news that she had cancer and needed treatment. She sought and the University gave her a six-month (paid) leave of absence. As that period drew to a close and the spring term approached plaintiff's doctor advised her to seek more time off. She asked the University to extend her leave through the end of spring semester, promising to return in time for the summer term. But according to plaintiff's complaint, the University refused, explaining that it had an inflexible policy allowing no more than six months' sick leave. The University did arrange for long-term disability benefits, but plaintiff alleged it effectively terminated her employment. In response, she filed suit contending that by denying her more than six months' sick leave the University violated the Rehabilitation Act. The district court dismissed her complaint. Subsequently, plaintiff appealed to the Tenth Circuit. "When it comes to satisfying her elemental obligations, Ms. Hwang's complaint fails early on. . . . there’s also no question she wasn’t able to perform the essential functions of her job even with a reasonable accommodation. . . .It perhaps goes without saying that an employee who isn't capable of working for so long isn't an employee capable of performing a job's essential functions - and that requiring an employer to keep a job open for so long doesn't qualify as a reasonable accommodation. After all, reasonable accommodations . . . are all about enabling employees to work, not to not work." The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's order.