A former US Postal Service employee can continue her lawsuit in which she tried to work from home in the morning because of a painful nerve condition that flares up early in the day, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday, overturning a lower court ruling.
Dionne Montague worked as a public relations employee for the US Postal Service in the Houston area from 2009 to 2017, according to the split opinion from the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in Dionne A. Montague v. United States Postal Service.
Mrs. Montague, who suffers from peripheral neuropathy, can drive to the office in the afternoon, but asked the post office to let her work in the morning from home as needed and report to the office every afternoon.
The Post denied her request because driving and travel were essential to her job, and she was terminated, according to the complaint in the case. She sued in US District Court in Houston, alleging violations of the Rehabilitation Act.
The district court ruled in the post̵7;s favor, and was overturned by an appeals court panel in a 2-1 ruling.
The central disagreement in this case is whether the travel and mornings at the office were essential to her job, the majority opinion said. “To begin with, Montague raises a genuine issue of fact as to whether travel was necessary,” it said.
The summary judgment “permits the conclusion” that Ms. Montague could have performed aspects of her job that involved travel during the afternoon, it said, adding that her written job description did not mention travel as an essential part of her job.
The ruling also says that Montague has pointed out that two of her colleagues were allowed to work from home.
It said that the post office suggested as an alternative that her husband could drive her to the office and that she could also take a taxi. Mrs. Montague responded that her husband was not always available, and the Post never offered to reimburse her for taxi expenses, which she could not afford, the ruling said, overturning the lower court’s decision.
The dissenting opinion said a request to work from home is “an extraordinary accommodation that should require extraordinary justification,” which has not been provided.
Mrs. Montague’s attorney, Ashok Bail, of the Bail Law Firm in Houston, said in a statement: “We are very pleased with the decision and we look forward to trial in this matter.”
The Post’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.