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How Much Detail Must Be In A Request For A Workplace Disability Accommodation?

by | Jun 25, 2024 | Disability Discrimination, Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Federal Law Update, Retaliation |

When it comes to requesting accommodations under Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), clarity is paramount. The same rings true when making complaints or opposing discrimination. Failure to properly convey this information, as well as document that the information was conveyed may doom disability discrimination and retaliation claims under the ADA.

Let’s use the recent case of Taylor v. University Of Mississippi Medical Center., No. 23-60246, 2024 WL 512559 (5th Cir. Feb. 9, 2024), as an example.

Taylor, a Black man, was a dedicated employee of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s (UMMC) IT department since 2012. Notably, he openly disclosed his struggle with depression in his 2012 employment application, identifying on his disability from the outset. As the years progressed, Taylor found himself grappling with the burdens of his workload, prompting him to reach out to his supervisor, Russell Donald, in 2014. Through email correspondence, Taylor voiced his concerns about the toll his responsibilities were taking on him, describing the task of providing ongoing IT support to multiple departments as mentally and physically exhausting. He did not, however, mention his disability with these complaints. Further, Taylor chose not to divulge the specific details of his disability to subsequent supervisors, Stephen Parnell and Donald, when he transitioned to the role of Field Support Specialist in 2016. This decision would later prove significant in his interactions with UMMC.

In 2018, Taylor sought an opportunity to advance his career by applying for a promotion to the role of Field Support Specialist Intermediate. However, despite his qualifications and years of service, he was passed over in favor of Marcella Fleming, a fellow African American colleague. The decision-makers, including Donald, cited Fleming’s superior educational background, including a bachelor’s degree in Computer Networking and Information Technology, compared to Taylor’s associate’s degree in Network Engineering, as well as her exemplary work performance and favorable interview.

Feeling undervalued and marginalized, Taylor immediately tendered his resignation in protest, giving two weeks’ notice. In his April 4, 2018, resignation email, he expressed his frustrations with what he perceived as mismanagement of personnel and unequal compensation, both of which had contributed to his burnout, both physically and mentally. Taylor’s efforts to air his grievances didn’t stop there; he also reached out to HR and Parnell directly, highlighting the disproportionate workload he had shouldered without complaint for the past two years. Despite his attempts to rectify the situation, including requesting to rescind his resignation, UMMC’s IT department leadership, led by Donald, opted to accept Taylor’s resignation.

Does the employer have to engage in the interactive process without a specific request?

The ADA provides employees with the right to request reasonable accommodations to perform their job duties effectively. However, merely hinting at needing accommodation isn’t sufficient; the request must be explicit and detailed. The interactive process, central to ADA compliance, necessitates employers to engage in a dialogue with employees requesting accommodations. But what if no explicit request is made?

To prevail on a failure-to-accommodate claim, the employee must present evidence that (1) he was a qualified individual with a disability, (2) the employer knew about the disability and its consequential limitations as well as a request for an accommodation, and (3) the employer failed to engage in the interactive process or otherwise failed to make reasonable accommodations. Moreover, an employer’s mere knowledge of a disability is not enough; the employer must also have been informed of the limitations the employee experienced stemming from that disability. If the employee is not direct and specific in a disability accommodation request, then the employee can only prevail by showing that the disability, resulting limitation, and necessary reasonable accommodation were so open, obvious, and apparent to the employer’s relevant agents that it triggered its need to act.

However, in Taylor’s case, despite his complaints about workload and stress, his employer didn’t engage in the interactive process because he didn’t explicitly tie his concerns to his disability. Specifically, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held:

Even assuming UMMC knew about Taylor’s depression, however, he never tied this disability directly to suggested accommodations. His 2012 application, for example, did not identify the “consequential limitations” of his depression. Likewise, Taylor’s workload grievances to Donald and Parnell did not tie his exhaustion to his depression, nor did Taylor “suggest [any] reasonable accommodation[ ]” based on that disability. Taylor instead met with Parnell in April 2018 to explain why he was resigning, not to request accommodations based on a disability. In fact, Taylor admitted he never expressly told any supervisor that he was disabled and needed a specific accommodation.

Id. at *2 (Emphasis added)(internal citations omitted). Once Taylor made that honest admission, his claim was doomed. This highlights the importance of clarity in communication from both parties to ensure accommodation needs are met and the interactive process is initiated when necessary.

Best Workplace Disability Accommodation Lawyer Blogs on Point:

How Much Detail is Needed in a Discrimination Complaint to Avoid Retaliation?

Lodging a discrimination complaint requires attention to detail to avoid retaliation. The ADA safeguards employees from retaliation for opposing discrimination or participating in the complaint process.

Absent any direct evidence of retaliation (admissions that the adverse action is based on protected activity), to succeed in a retaliation claim, the employee must initially establish a “prima facie case” by demonstrating three key elements: (1) engagement in protected activity, (2) experiencing an adverse employment action, and (3) establishing a causal link between the two occurrences. When alleging protected opposition, akin to Taylor’s situation, the employee must, at a minimum, reference actions that could reasonably be construed as discriminatory in intent or effect. This alerts the employer to potentially discriminatory practices.

In Taylor’s case, his complaints about workload and unequal treatment were deemed insufficient to constitute protected opposition to discrimination because he didn’t explicitly link them to his disability. Specifically, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held:

[We] consider Taylor’s resignation and “airing his grievances” in protest for being passed over for the promotion. His resignation letter did not specify why he was resigning, let alone say that his resignation was based on perceived discrimination. His grievances to Parnell simply expressed displeasure for being passed over twice in favor of another candidate, but Taylor never alleged those decisions were discriminatory. He instead asked about “what skills [he] could sharpen to become a better candidate” and “what factors ultimately lead to [the other candidate’s] selection.” Rather than protesting discriminatory hiring, Taylor lamented his increased workload and that his “hard work and willingness to maintain support for [UMMC’s] customers has gone un[n]oticed and unappreciated.” … While Taylor later stated at his deposition that his “resignation was, in effect, a protest to the discrimination that [he] felt [he] was facing, to raise a flag to get some attention,” no evidence indicates he communicated this belief to UMMC.

Id. at *4 (alterations in original).

Therefore, it’s crucial to clearly articulate the discriminatory behavior and its connection to a protected characteristic like disability to safeguard against retaliation and ensure your rights are protected.

Best Employment Retaliation Attorney Blogs on Point:

What to Do If Denied a Disability Accommodation?

If you’re denied a disability accommodation, seeking legal counsel is paramount. Consulting an attorney specializing in employee rights, like Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, is your best course of action. With a free initial consultation and a no fee guarantee, Spitz offers accessible legal assistance to those facing discrimination or accommodation denials. Taylor’s case serves as a reminder of the importance of legal representation. Spitz, as one of the largest dedicated employee rights firms in the country, has the expertise and resources to fight for your rights effectively. Don’t let accommodation denials go unchallenged; empower yourself with legal representation and ensure your rights are upheld.


The information provided in this disability discrimination blog is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice regarding your specific employment law matter and should not be construed as such. Each individual’s circumstances are unique, and legal outcomes may vary depending on specific facts and applicable laws.

Reading this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Spitz, or any of its attorneys. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability, or availability of the information contained herein. Readers should consult with a qualified attorney or legal professional for advice tailored to their specific employment discrimination or retaliation situation. Any reliance on the information presented in this blog is at the reader’s own risk. The inclusion of case summaries and legal discussions in this blog does not guarantee similar outcomes in other legal matters. Legal principles may vary based on jurisdiction and individual circumstances. This blog may not cover all aspects of a particular legal issue, and readers are encouraged to conduct further research or seek professional legal advice as needed.

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