Disabled state employee wins grievance over ‘essential functions’ of job

By: - August 13, 2023 9:46 pm

(Getty Images)

LINCOLN — A disabled state employee, fired because he couldn’t perform an “essential function” of his job assessing people for state benefits, recently won a grievance reversing his dismissal and awarding him back pay.

Shawn Paillot was a community coordinator in the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, performing assessments of people applying for state assistance due to developmental disabilities.

Paillot, who was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, had worked for DHHS since 2018, and had been granted an accommodation, due to his disability, to work at home and conduct assessments virtually, over a computer, rather than in person.

But in early 2022, DHHS decided that assessments for one program needed to be done in person, and in September 2022, moved to fire Paillot, who was homebound.

Arbitrator Jim Titus, who heard the appeal of his firing, ruled in favor of Paillot and the Nebraska Association of Public Employees (NAPE), of which Paillot was a member.

The arbitrator ruled that while in-person assessments were a function of Paillot’s job, it was not an “essential” function, and that the Americans with Disabilities Act required that the health department continue to allow accommodations for him to do assessments over a computer.

No evidence was presented that Paillot’s job performance was unsatisfactory, the 14-page ruling stated, and there was testimony that the requirement of in-person assessments was not applied consistently within DHHS.

A spokesman for DHHS said Paillot had resigned. Paillot could not be reached for comment.

Justin Hubly, the executive director of NAPE, said Paillot told him that while he was pleased he was able to prove the department’s actions were arbitrary and in violation of the ADA, he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue to work for the state.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.