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Transfer to new supervisor held not a “reasonable accommodation”

What if a disabled employee’s preferred accommodation is to be transferred to a new supervisor? In a recent Pennyslvania case, the Third Circuit held that an employer was within its rights to deny such a request as it would not have been a “reasonable accommodation” required under the ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act).

The Third Circuit observed that the employer had met its obligation to engage in the ADA’s required “interactive process” by exploring the disabled worker’s purported need for accommodation. The company had “met with her, considered her requests, and offered several accommodations, including a part-time work schedule.” The worker had, in turn, rejected all efforts to reach an accommodation. The Court observed that she was simply “unwilling to agree to any accommodation that included continued supervision by” her supervisor. The Court rejected her request for a new supervisor, holding it was not required by the ADA, and noting further that courts are not authorized by the ADA to restructure the terms of employment.

Source: Sessoms v. Univ. of Penn., case no. 17-2369 (3rd Cir. 6/20/18).

Tenth Circuit reaffirms indefinite leave request is not a reasonable accommodation

The Tenth Circuit recently reaffirmed that a request for indefinite leave is not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Although the plaintiff provided some information about her need for leave, she failed to provide any sense of the anticipated duration of her disability. Instead she “informed her supervisor at Kelly on a Monday morning that she planned ‘not to come to work this week at all’ and indicated she would need additional time off for ‘some appointments and tests’ and for ‘five times of radiation.’” The Tenth Circuit held that was insufficient.

The accommodation Plaintiff requested would have required GE either to go without someone working at the receptionist position it had contracted with Kelly to staff (requiring others at GE to take over Plaintiff’s duties at the receptionist desk while still carrying out their own job duties), or to accept a supertemporary employee or employees who would fill in for Plaintiff for the week she wanted off and for whichever other additional times she needed to take off for tests, appointments, “times of radiation,” and other cancer-related reasons, while letting Plaintiff return to take over her temporary job position whenever she was free and felt up to attending work.

The case is a good reminder to employers of the value (and legal requirement under the ADA) of the interactive process. By communicating with the plaintiff and hearing her full request, the employer was able to gauge the legal reasonableness of her request under the ADA and determine it to be insufficient.

Source: Punt v. Kelly Services

Tenth Circuit reaffirms disability and accommodation requirements

The Tenth Circuit reaffirmed the requirements an employer faces when a less than clear employee presents with a potential disability. In this case, the plaintiff had a pacemaker but otherwise no restrictions and needed no accommodations at work. He required a battery replacement to the pacemaker, and the procedure left him with an infection. He took FMLA leave then, while on leave, informed his employer he wouldn’t be able to return for an additional week after his FMLA leave expired.

He did not say he had a disability, but the Tenth Circuit held that the company knew enough to know that he did. The Tenth Circuit rejected the argument that, with his pacemaker, the plaintiff had no restrictions. The court noted that established ADA law requires courts to consider the plaintiff’s condition without the benefit of ameliorative treatments, like a pacemaker (medication, eyeglasses, etc.). But for the pacemaker, the court held that the company knew enough to know the plaintiff’s condition would have beenbad enough to constitute a protected disability.

With regard to the fact that he was entitled to no more FMLA leave, and with regard to the fact that he never actually asked for extra leave at the end of his FMLA leave, the Tenth Circuit held he’d effectively put the company on notice that it should have engaged in the ADA-required interactive process while he was on his FMLA leave. Even though he didn’t ask for extra leave, the company should have discussed with him whether his disability required a reasonable accommodation, and if it had done so, one potentially reasonable accommodation would have been an additional unpaid week’s leave.

Indeed, the facts of the case began even earlier with an OSHA investigation that the plaintiff maintained he’d been suspected of starting by anonymously complaining to OSHA. He sued for that as well, and the Tenth Circuit held that the foregoing, and other alleged conduct, could have been part of a claim for OSHA retaliation as well (under a Kansas law that recognizes such claims as public policy violations). Therefore, he was allowed to proceed on both his ADA and wrongful discharge claims.

The case is a good illustration to employers of the need to fully consider, in consultation with legal counsel, known information, even when a plaintiff seems otherwise fine, only suffers what seems to be a temporary setback and is himself less than clear about what he needs from the company.

Source: Yinger v. Postal Presort Inc., — F.3d —, case no. Court of Appeals, case no. No. 16-3239 (10th Cir. 6/8/17)

Beware asking one question too many

When the plaintiff applied for short-term disability benefits, he told the insurance company that he suffered from stress, anxiety and an addiction to prescribed narcotics. He was granted the requested medical leave of absence, took the leave, returned to work, received a write-up and resigned. He sued his employer for a number of alleged violations.

First, he claimed he’d been subjected to a hostile work environment because of his alleged disability. He said the hostile work environment included being “sarcastically belittled” and called “a baby.” The Court dismissed the claim, holding his allegations were not severe enough to violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), even if true.

Second, he claimed he’d been discriminated against because he’d been “regarded as” disabled when the company had allegedly required him to pass a drug test and to remain in the drug testing program for five years. The Court dismissed that claim as well, noting that he was the one who had asked for leave due to substance abuse and that the evidence established the employer treated others who did the same in the same way.

Finally, he argued that the company had wrongfully required him to disclose all legally prescribed medications he was using. Here, the Court held, if true, the employer had gone too far. The ADA strictly limits companies’ ability to request medical information, and the Court remanded the case for the lower court to determine what had actually happened. The Court noted that the f company could still provide it complied with the ADA’s rules. In short, the employer will have to prove it had a “business necessity” for the request and that the request was job-related given the plaintiff’s individual duties.

Employers are reminded to consult with experienced counsel when confronted with difficult cases involving leaves, disabilities, addiction and safety concerns.

The case was Williams v. FedEx Corporate Services, — F.3d — (10th Cir. 2/24/17).