Best Ohio Disability Discrimination Attorney Answer: What is a reasonable accommodation for my disability at work? Can I choose my own accommodation for my disability? Does my job have to provide a choice of accommodations?
Questions about disabilities and disability discrimination can lead to a sticky situation for employees and employers. One recent case involving a former employee of Dairy Queen who is legally blind highlights this point.
As our employment law lawyers have previously blogged about disability discrimination at work, one of the ways that the term disability is defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), is a, “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The statute also contains a non-exhaustive list of “major life activities” including seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, working, learning and caring for oneself. Additionally, the federal statute describes discrimination as “not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee.” The only time an employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation would be if the requested accommodation would create an undue hardship on the employer’s business operations.
In the case of the former Dairy Queen employee, Bunn v. Khoury Enterprises, Inc., the employer did not dispute that the employee clearly met the definition by being legally blind. The biggest problem, according to the employee, was that his employer failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for his disability.
Dairy Queen hired Joshua Bunn for an hourly position. The hourly positions generally entailed a rotating schedule where the employees would be responsible for completing certain tasks in separate departments. The “Chill” department required preparing food including ice cream treats, and the “Expo” department where employees would deliver food to customers, and clean the dining area. Bunn was not given a rotating schedule after he was unable to read the small labels on the ingredients or view the screen with the list of orders waiting to be made. Bunn’s manager trained him to work exclusively in the Expo department where Bunn had no issues delivering food to dine-in patrons and cleaning the store and dining area.
Ultimately, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the change from a rotating schedule to a set schedule and employing Bunn exclusively in one department where Bunn was able to perform his job without issue was a reasonable accommodation. The Court noted that an accommodation is “any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.” Even though Bunn later requested additional different accommodations, the Court found that the employer’s failure to provide Bunn with his desired accommodations was not enough to show that the employer had failed to provide an accommodation at all. Specifically, the court of appeals held:
It is undisputed that, when it became clear that Bunn could not perform the rotating duties of a regular hourly employee, store manager Larry Johnson worked with him to determine which job functions he could perform and which he could not. Bunn was best able to perform the duties of an employee in the Expo department. Accordingly, instead of rotating Bunn through various departments, some of which were unsuitable for him, Johnson instructed Bunn’s immediate supervisors to schedule him exclusively in Expo. That “change. . . in the way things [were] customarily done” enabled Bunn to enjoy equal employment opportunities, as evidenced by the undisputed fact that he was scheduled full-time in Expo from his hire date until his suspension. 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. § 1630.2(o). It might also be called a “job restructuring,” or a “modified work schedule.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(2)(ii). In short, it was exactly the kind of accommodation envisioned by the regulations applicable to the ADA.
That is the end of our inquiry; the undisputed facts show that Khoury did what it was required to do by law. Bunn’s only argument to the contrary is that he asked for additional, or different, accommodations and was rebuffed. But even if we credit his version of events—which we are obligated to do at the summary judgment stage—that fact is not material. While the EEOC regulations accompanying the ADA do suggest that “it may be necessary for the [employer] to initiate an informal, interactive process with the [employee]” to determine an appropriate accommodation, 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(3) (emphasis added), there is no separate cause of action for a failure of that interactive process. In this area of the law, we are primarily concerned with the ends, not the means: “Because the interactive process is not an end in itself, it is not sufficient for [an employee] to show that [an employer] failed to engage in an interactive process or that it caused the interactive process to break down.” Rehling v. City of Chicago, 207 F.3d 1009, 1015-1016 (7th Cir. 2000); see also Spurling v. C & M Fine Pack, Inc., 739 F.3d 1055, 1059 n.1 (7th Cir. 2014). Ultimately, Khoury did provide a reasonable accommodation to Bunn. Bunn’s apparent displeasure with the way in which Khoury decided on that accommodation, or with its failure to provide the exact accommodation he would have preferred, is irrelevant.
The take away from Mr. Bunn’s case is that it is never too early in the process to consult an employment law attorney who is familiar with the requirements of the ADA and state laws regarding disabilities. It is possible that Mr. Bunn had some colorable claims. What is not clear is whether or not he had an opportunity to settle his case before the courts ruled against him as a matter of summary judgment.
Having to live with a disability is difficult enough without worrying about the effect it may have on your job. 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 disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.
The materials available at the top of this page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “how do I get a work accommodation for my disability?”, “am I disabled under the ADA?”, “what should I do if…” or “can my boss fired me for …”, 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.