The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals who are regarded (or perceived) as having a disability. Under the ADA, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to any qualified job applicant or employee with a disability. A “reasonable accommodation” is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that will allow a disabled employee to perform the essential functions of the job. A few examples of reasonable accommodations are:
- providing or modifying equipment or devices;
- allowing for part-time or modified work schedules;
- reassignment to a vacant position.
There are many other potential accommodations. The key requirement is that the accommodation must be reasonable, meaning it cannot cause the employer excessive hardship or expense. Also, before deciding that no reasonable accommodation exists, an employer must work with the employee and make an effort to determine whether there really are no
potential solutions. Unfortunately, some employers try to shorten the process and advance directly to termination by simply declaring that nothing can be done to accommodate the employee. As one employer recently learned, it’s a short cut that can be expensive in the long run.
In Lovell v. Champion Car Wash, employee Lovell requested to transfer to a morning shift at a location with air-conditioning due to medical conditions. In support of his request, Lovell provided his employer with a note from his physician stating that Lovell should avoid the heat of day due to a risk of dehydration.
Rather than seek clarification about Lovell’s restrictions, the employer interpreted the doctor’s note to mean that Lovell could not perform his job “during any heat that may exist at any point during the day.” In response, the employer declared that Lovell’s disability could not be accommodated and terminated Lovell’s employment in the following letter:
“I take health issues seriously, particularly heart related issues. Since I now have a doctor’s note in my possession, liability for your heart issue is now passed along to me. If you got overheated while working at Champion Car Wash, and it caused further damage or injury to your heart, I would be liable and open to a lawsuit.
Frankly, I do not have any jobs available that would preclude you from working in the heat of the day. In the summertime, as recently demonstrated, temperatures can easily reach 90+ degrees as early as 9–10 am and last until late in the evening. Those words from your doctor “he should avoid the heat of the day …” prevent you from performing your job duties during any heat that may exist at any point during the day. For personal and legal reasons, I must take your doctor’s note seriously.
Since you cannot perform your job duties as needed, I am going to have to release you, for medical reasons, from employment at Champion Car Wash….”
Following his termination, Lovell sued his former employer for violating the ADA by refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation. And, given the nature of the doctor’s note, it’s not that hard to think of a few – like, I don’t know, providing him with some water to avoid dehydration.
The federal judge hearing the case was similarly nonplused by the employer’s claim that no reasonable accommodation could be made. Further the Court found that the employer’s letter constituted direct evidence of disability discrimination. The employer clearly stated that he was terminating Lovell “for medical reasons” and discussed Lovell’s health condition and work restrictions at length. As a result, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Lovell and found the employer liable for the damage’s Lovell suffered as a result of the discriminatory termination decision.
It seems obvious that the employer disagreed with Lovell’s request to change shifts, and rushed to conclude that no shift could be suitable for Lovell given his dehydration issues. However, since the employer rushed to its conclusion without exploring other options, it overlooked the fact that Lovell’s medical condition might have been accommodated simply by allowing him to take water breaks to avoid dehydration. By providing the water accommodation, the employer likely would have avoided the shift change and the lawsuit.
The take-away from the Lovell case is that an employer must at least investigate potential accommodations before deciding that there are none. If you even think that your employer has discriminated against you based on your disability or has failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for your disability, know your rights, and call the right attorney today to set up a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. The best option is not to wait. The Spitz Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disables employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio law.
The materials available at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. It would be best for you to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to disability discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, attorney Brian Spitz or any individual attorney.