This blog is about the great Free Parking Debate. My 12 year old daughter came home from one of her friend’s house astonished at the indignity of the rules that her friend insisted applied to a game of Monopoly. You see, in our house, you start the game putting $200 in the middle of the board and then all the tax money accrued during the game goes into to the pot with it. Then the player that lands on the Free Parking spot gets the cash in the middle. But, at her friend’s house, no money ever goes in the middle and the Free Parking space is just a space where nothing happens – a little boring if you ask me, but those are the official black and white rules according to Hasbro.
So what does the shoe and the little car have to do with disability discrimination? Let’s start with the simple facts of Feist v. State of Louisiana: Pauline Feist, an assistant attorney general, had osteoarthritis in her knee and asked her employer, the Louisiana Department of Justice, for a free parking spot on site. After the employer denied her request, Feist filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming that the state failed to accommodate her disability. Shortly thereafter, the Department of Justice fired Feist for poor performance.
The first question is whether Feist is disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). An employee is covered under the ADA if that employee: (a) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activities; (b) has an impairment that may or may not substantially limit major life activities, but the employer treats employee as if it does; (c) has an impairment that substantially limits major life activities only as a result of the attitudes of others toward your impairment; or (d) does not have a disability that substantially limits a major life activities impairment, but the employer treats the employee as if he or she does.
At first glance, Feist’s osteoarthritis in her knee does not appear to limit a major life activity; and there were no allegations that employer treated Feist as if she had a disability. Nonetheless, the district court held “Feist is a qualified individual with a disability and that the disability was known by the employer.” This demonstrates how broad the definition of disability has become since President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAA) on September 25, 2008. The ADAA, which made significant changes to broaden the definition of the term “disability” by rejecting several Supreme Court decisions and portions of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s ADA regulations, made it significantly easier for employees to gain protection under the ADA. How broad? The employer did not even dispute the finding of a disability of appeal.
The second question and the only question on appeal was “whether the district court applied the correct legal standard in determining whether Feist’s proposed accommodation was reasonable.” In other words, should she get free parking? Instead of using only the ADA definition of “reasonable accommodations,” the Fifth District Court of Appeals considered the guidelines set by the EEOC:
The LDOJ urges this Court to affirm the district court’s interpretation. Feist, however, points out that reasonable accommodations are not restricted to modifications that enable performance of essential job functions. The language of the ADA, and all available interpretive authority, indicate that Feist is correct. … The text thus gives no indication that an accommodation must facilitate the essential functions of one’s position. Moreover, the requested reserved on-site parking would presumably have made her workplace “readily accessible to and usable” by her, and therefore might have been a potentially reasonable accommodation pursuant to §12111(9)(A).
The Court of Appeals then rejected an argument that an accommodation is only necessarily to aid an essential job function: “a modification that enables an individual to perform the essential functions of a position is only one of three categories of reasonable accommodation … the district court erred in requiring a nexus between the requested accommodation and the essential functions of Feist’s position.” The Fifth District court also cited 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(1), which provides:
(i) Modifications or adjustments to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position such qualified applicant desires; or
(ii) Modifications or adjustments to the work environment . . . that enable an individual with a disability who is qualified to perform the essential functions of that position; or
(iii) Modifications or adjustments that enable a covered entity’s employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities.
Thus, while a free parking space might not really help a desk job employee with an essential job function, it is might be a reasonable accommodation. If only we could resolve that other Free Parking debate.
If you are disabled or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. The best option is not to wait. Spitz, The Employee’s 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 Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, attorney Brian Spitz or any individual attorney.