Today, we look at a recent case out of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that deals with the disability accommodation process at work. In Tillman v. New York City Department of Human Resources Administration, No. 22-872-CV, 2023 WL 2770218 (2d Cir. Apr. 4, 2023), Tammara Tillman sued her former employer for not providing a sufficient accommodation for her disability. Tillman identified her disability as “back spasms, sciatica, fibromyalgia, [and] pinched nerves.” Tillman requested her employer provide her with a “standing footrest” and “ergonomic chair” as a reasonable accommodation for her disabilities. Instead, she claims that she was provided with a “rocking footrest” and a “dilapidated ergonomic chair,” which she claims were not reasonable accommodations.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in favor of the employer:
The parties dispute whether HRA refused to provide Tillman with a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation “is one that enables an individual with a disability … to perform the essential functions of that position or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.” Noll v. Int’l Bus. Machs. Corp., 787 F.3d 89, 94 (2d Cir. 2015) (cleaned up). The accommodation “must be effective,” but the ADA does not require employers to “provide a perfect accommodation or the very accommodation most strongly preferred by the employee.” Id. at 95. Tillman acknowledges that, in response to her request, HRA provided her with an ergonomic chair and footrest, but alleges that the ergonomic chair was “dilapidated” and the “rocking footrest agitate[d her] … physical impairments.” Tillman concedes that she was able to “perform[ ] the essential functions of her job despite the unreasonable accommodation that she received,” and she identifies no “benefits or privileges of employment” that she was not able to enjoy because of the chair and footrest that she was provided, Noll, 787 F.3d at 95–96. … Tillman does attribute her September 2015 leave of absence to an injury caused by the first ergonomic chair provided by HRA, she concedes that after she complained about that chair, another was provided for her, and does not attribute any of her subsequent leaves to that second chair.
Id. at *1 (citations to the record omitted)
What law requires employers to accommodate disabled employers?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various aspects of life. This law covers different areas of life, such as employment, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. One of the key provisions of the ADA is the requirement for reasonable accommodations to ensure equal opportunities for people with disabilities.
The ADA defines a reasonable accommodation as a modification or adjustment to a job, work environment, or task that enables a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that job. Reasonable accommodations can vary depending on the specific needs of an individual with a disability. In this blog, our disability discrimination lawyers explore how ADA accommodations are selected and provide some examples of cases that dealt with accommodations.
Best Workplace Disability Lawyer Blogs on Point:
- ADA: Don’t Fire Disabled Employees Who Already Do The Job
- What Qualifies As A Disability According To The ADA?
- ADA: What Is A Central Job Function?
What is the process to get an ADA accommodation at work?
The ADA accommodation process typically involves three steps: request, assessment, and implementation.
Step 1: Request: The first step in the accommodation process is for an individual with a disability to request an accommodation. An employee or job applicant can request an accommodation from an employer, while an individual seeking access to goods, services, or public accommodations can request an accommodation from a business or public entity. The request should be made in writing and should include a description of the accommodation being requested.
Step 2: Assessment: Once a request for accommodation has been made, the employer or business must assess the request to determine whether the requested accommodation is reasonable. The assessment process typically involves gathering information from the individual with a disability, medical professionals, and other relevant parties to determine the functional limitations of the individual and identify possible accommodations. Employers must engage in the interactive process and assess the reasonableness of the requested accommodation, rather than simply denying the request out of hand. The interactive process is a collaborative effort between the individual and the employer or business to determine what accommodations are reasonable and effective.
Step 3: Implementation: The final step in the accommodation process is the implementation of the accommodation. If an accommodation is determined to be reasonable, the employer or business must provide the accommodation, unless doing so would result in an undue hardship. An undue hardship refers to significant difficulty or expense that would make the accommodation unreasonable. An employer or business can claim undue hardship only if it can demonstrate that the accommodation would be too difficult or expensive to implement.
Now, let’s take a look at some examples of cases where accommodations were granted.
In EEOC v. UPS Supply Chain Solutions, 620 F.3d 1103 (9th Cir. 2010), a deaf individual applied for a job as a package car driver with UPS. The individual requested an accommodation in the form of a sign language interpreter to communicate during the job interview process. UPS refused to provide the requested accommodation, arguing that it was not necessary and would be too expensive. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the requested accommodation was reasonable and necessary for the individual to effectively communicate during the interview process. UPS was ordered to pay $135,000 in damages to the individual and was required to provide training to its managers and supervisors on ADA accommodation requirements.
In Hubbell v. World Kitchen, LLC, 909 F.3d 307 (7th Cir. 2018), an employee with chronic pain and mobility issues requested an accommodation in the form of a parking spot closer to the entrance of her workplace. The employer denied the request, arguing that the parking spot was reserved for customers and that providing it to the employee would create an undue hardship. The court ruled in favor of the employee, finding that the requested accommodation was reasonable and would not cause an undue hardship. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the employer should have provided the employee with a parking spot closer to the entrance of the workplace.
In Wynn v. Avon Products, Inc., 234 F.3d 1268 (11th Cir. 2000), an employee with chronic fatigue syndrome requested an accommodation in the form of a flexible schedule that would allow her to work from home on certain days. The employer denied the request, arguing that the employee’s job required her to be present in the office every day. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held in favor of the employee, finding that the requested accommodation was reasonable and necessary to enable the employee to perform the essential functions of her job.
Best ADA Accommodations Attorney Blogs on Point:
- ADA Accommodations: What Info Do I Need To Give My Job?
- ADA Disability Accommodation Law: Help Me, Help You
- Can I Refuse My Job Access To Medical Records During ADA Accommodation Process?
Under the ADA, does the employer or the employee get to pick the accommodation?
While the employee may suggest an accommodation that they believe would be effective, the employer is not required to provide an employee’s preferred accommodation if it is not reasonable or if another accommodation would be equally effective. The employer has the ultimate responsibility to identify and implement a reasonable accommodation that enables the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.
Here are some cases that illustrate these principles:
In Beck v. Univ. of Wisconsin Bd. of Regents, 75 F.3d 1130 (7th Cir. 1996), an employee with a history of depression requested an accommodation in the form of a transfer to a different department to avoid working with a supervisor she claimed was causing her stress. The employer denied the request, arguing that the employee’s job duties required her to work in the department where she was currently assigned. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held in favor of the employer, finding that the requested accommodation was not reasonable because it would have required the employer to create a new position for the employee. The Seventh Circuit only specifically held that the employer had engaged in the interactive process with the employee and had offered other accommodations that would enable her to perform the essential functions of her job.
In Brown v. Department of Veterans Affairs, 425 F.3d 1319 (Fed. Cir. 2005), an employee with a knee injury requested an accommodation in the form of a parking space closer to the building where she worked. The employer denied the request but offered other accommodations such as a cane and a brace. The employee declined the other accommodations and filed a lawsuit claiming that the employer had failed to provide a reasonable accommodation. The Federal Circuit Court held in favor of the employer, finding that the offered accommodations were reasonable and that the employee had failed to engage in the interactive process in good faith.
These cases illustrate the importance of engaging in the interactive process and assessing the reasonableness of requested accommodations. While the employee may suggest a particular accommodation, the employer ultimately has the responsibility to identify and implement a reasonable accommodation that enables the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.
Best ADA Employment Law Firm Blogs on Point:
- Can I Pick The ADA Accommodation I Want?
- Disability Discrimination: A Simple Illustration of A Reasonable Accommodation
How do I know if my job unlawfully refuses to accommodate my disability?
If you have asked your employer to provide a disability accommodation under the ADA and don’t think they have acted legally, it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?; Why Having Skilled Employment Attorneys Is Critical; Employment Law: Avoid Hiring The Wrong Attorney). Call our lawyers in Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, and Kentucky to get help now. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.
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