Snapp v. BNSF Ry., 889 F.3d 1088 (9th Cir. 2018)

Danny Snapp sued his former employer, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. (“BNSF”), for failure to accommodate his alleged disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Snapp worked as a division trainmaster, but due to “tiredness and low energy,” he went to a doctor and was diagnosed with sleep apnea; Snapp had two surgeries in unsuccessful attempts to correct the condition. After Snapp was deemed to be totally disabled, he applied for long-term disability benefits, which he received for approximately five years before those benefits were terminated due to an absence of evidence of continuing disability. Snapp was later told he had 60 days to secure another position with BNSF or his employment would be terminated. After Snapp failed to secure a position within the 60-day period, his employment was terminated. He then filed suit alleging BNSF’s failure to reasonably accommodate his disability, and a jury returned a verdict in favor of BNSF. In this appeal, Snapp asserted that the district court had given erroneous jury instructions. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the judgment against Snapp on the ground that at trial, a plaintiff bears the burden of proving (not just of producing evidence) that the employer could have made a reasonable accommodation that would have enabled the plaintiff to perform the essential functions of the job and that Snapp had failed to satisfy that burden. The Court also held that the employer was not bound by the admissions made in a deposition of a corporate designee pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(b)(6) such that the jury should not have been allowed to consider other evidence.