Best Ohio Disability Discrimination Attorney Answer: Can my boss fire me for having down syndrome even if a reasonable accommodation is available? Is having a “job coach” a reasonable accommodation for an employee with an intellectual disability? Can I sue for wrongful termination if I am fired because of my disability?
Papa John’s is good at many things. Delicious garlic dipping sauce, affordable pizza and producing annoying but memorable commercials are among some of the things Papa John’s excels at. However, treating employees with disabilities with the respect and fairness they are entitled to under law is unfortunately not included in that list.
According to a recently filed disability discrimination lawsuit, Papa John’s recently terminated an employee for the sole reason that he was disabled and didn’t even try to hide its motivation for the termination. Scott Bonn worked at a Papa John’s location in Farmington, Utah and excelled at his job with the help of “job coach.” Bonn needed a job coach due to his intellectual disability, Down Syndrome, which affect more than 400,000 in the United States. One day, the Papa John’s operating partner visited the location and observed Bonn working with the assistance of his job coach. Instead of evaluating Bonn strictly on his job performance, which was by all accounts excellent, the operating partner shockingly ordered the store to fire Bonn immediately.
Even though Papa John’s was required to reasonably accommodate Bonn and his disability, the operating partner simply terminated Bonn without any interactive process to determine whether providing Bonn a job coach was a reasonable accommodation.
Now, the first thing that will probably will come to mind when considering whether a job coach would be a reasonable accommodation is that Papa John’s would in theory have to hire and pay another employee, a job coach, in order to accommodate Bonn’s disability. Some might find it unreasonable to force an employer to hire, insure and pay two employees in order to accommodate a single employee’s disability. However, in Bonn’s case, his job coach was already independently employed and insured by Bonn, so Papa John’s incurred absolutely no additional costs by having Bonn’s job coach assist him while Bonn was working. Essentially, the job coach was just a slightly added duty to an existing employee’s job description.
Papa John’s would have undoubtedly realized that Bonn’s accommodation was entirely reasonable had they spent any time actually analyzing Bonn’s situation, speaking with his managers regarding his job performance and looking into whether the job coach was interfering with the operating of the store. Regrettably, the operating partner simple observed an employee with Down Syndrome working with the assistance of a job coach and summarily fired the employee solely because of his intellectual disability.
Disabled workers are protected as a matter of law from being discriminated against because of of their actual or perceived disability under Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Ohio R.C. § 4112.02(A). To qualify as a disabled worker under the ADA or R.C. § 4112.02, an employee must be a “qualified individual with a disability,” which the ADA defines as a disabled person “who can perform the essential functions” of his or her job “with reasonable accommodation.” As our disability discrimination attorneys have blogged about before, the ADA gives an employee a right to request an accommodation for a recognized disability under the act. Once the accommodation is requested, the employer must at the very least engage in an interactive dialog with the employee to see if a reasonable accommodation can be provided. A reasonable disability accommodation is considered any modification to job duties, the space in which the work is being performed, or the normal process that tasks are performed so as to permit an disabled worker to do the job and have equal access to benefits available to other employees. But, a company is not required to undertake any and all requested accommodations if the requested disability accommodation would create an “undue hardship” on the that company or employer. An “undue hardship” has been defined as an “action requiring significant difficulty or expense” when considering the nature and cost of the accommodation in relation to the size, resources, nature, and structure of the company’s operation. Stated more simply, a big company with more financial ability would be expected to make accommodations requiring greater effort or expense where a smaller employer with less resources may not be.
But even if there is a claim of undue hardship for a particular disability accommodation, the company’s obligation does not end. Instead, at that point, the company is required by law to at least try to identify one or more different accommodations that will not pose an undue hardship.
Thus, it is clear that intellectual disabilities should not prevent someone from working effectively with the assistance of a job coach – particularly if that job coach is already on site and being paid. If the job coach represents a reasonable accommodation that would allow the disabled employee to perform his or her job duties, then employers are required to allow the accommodation. If Papa John’s would have treated Bonn with respect and actually analyzed whether Bonn and his job coach could work successfully at the Papa John’s location, it would not be facing a costly, public, and embarrassing disability discrimination lawsuit that it will likely lose of be forced to settle.
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. Call our Ohio employment law attorneys at 866-797-6040. The best option is not to wait. The Spitz Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.
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