Bilinsky v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 18-3107 (7th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
American Airlines hired Bilinsky in 1991. Bilinsky contracted multiple sclerosis (MS) in the late 1990s. In 2007 she became a communications specialist in the Flight Service Department, located in Dallas. According to Bilinsky’s medical records, excessive heat aggravates her MS, so American permitted Bilinsky to work from Chicago. She usually traveled to Dallas one day per week for tasks that required a physical presence. Bilinsky performed successfully for several years. American merged with US Airways in 2013. Under the new circumstances, the company decided to require all employees to be physically present at headquarters. This decision affected two other employees: one relocated to Dallas, but the other refused and was terminated. Negotiations between American and Bilinsky collapsed; American terminated Bilinsky. The district court, on summary judgment, rejected Bilinsky’s Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. 12111) lawsuit, finding that Bilinsky was no longer qualified for the position because of the changes in her responsibilities. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although the change was slow and was not reflected in a written job description, the merger fundamentally changed the position’s nature. Consistent, physical presence became an essential function at some point after 2013. Bilinsky’s team evolved from working on independent activities (curating website content, responding to written questions, etc.) to team‐centered crisis management activities, involving frequent face‐to‐face meetings on short notice.