Molson Coors didn’t engage in disability discrimination when it fired a sales executive who could no longer travel, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held Tuesday (George v. Molson Coors Beverage Company USA, LLC, No. 22-7111 (March 28, 2023)).
The employee worked as a sales executive, serving Molson Coors’ largest customer, Buffalo Wild Wings, according to court documents. He spent roughly half his time traveling, consistent with his job description. In 2019, he began experiencing health issues and took medical leave.
The employee ultimately received a heart transplant and, after exhausting his available leave, informed Molson Coors’ he could return to work with restrictions: He needed to avoid travel by plane or train; limit his total driving time to 10-12 hours per week; remain at all times within a three-hour driving radius of his hospital; and avoid large crowds, at least temporarily. He also informed the company he was unwilling to relocate because his daughter was in high school.
The employer engaged in its accommodation process, according to court documents, but ultimately concluded it could not accommodate his restrictions as the job could not be done remotely. It also determined there was no open role for which he was qualified in light of his restrictions and unwillingness to relocate.
Molson Coors then fired the employee and he sued, alleging disability discrimination, in violation of D.C. law.
Analyzing the allegations using the Americans with Disabilities Act’s framework, a district court dismissed his claim. The employer was free to deem travel an essential function of the sales executive role, the court said. The “role required him to build rapport with Buffalo Wild Wings employees and to simulate the experience between them and retail customers,” the trial court noted; “Cracking open a cold one on Skype just isn’t the same.”
On appeal, the D.C. Circuit agreed. Molson Coors provided substantial evidence that extensive travel beyond a three-hour driving radius from Washington, D.C., was an essential function of the position, the court said; the sales role was designed around in-person interaction so the rep could see clients’ facilities and work on-site. Both a job description drafted years earlier and the employee’s own account supported the travel requirement, it said.
Because the plaintiff failed to provide evidence undermining that position, the employee’s restrictions rendered him unqualified for the job, the appeals court said, affirming the lower court’s ruling.