Hopefully, I didn’t miss something. (Oh, so you’re saying that, maybe, “reasonable-er” isn’t a word.)
Well, I do have a point here. Somewhere.
Ask and ye shall receive.
In Preston v. Great Lakes Specialty Finance, Inc. (opinion here), Plaintiff suffered from a disability that caused him to have heightened sensory sensitivities to visual and audio stimuli in his surrounding environment.
Initially, the plaintiff kept this disability on the DL and his work performance suffered. Eventually, however, Plaintiff told HR about his disability, after which the two sides discussed an appropriate accommodation to enable the plaintiff to perform the essential functions of his job.
As part of the accommodation process, Plaintiff produced a doctor’s note, which stated, “If it is possible, a situation where [Plaintiff] could work from home partially, if not full time, would be ideal.”
So, that’s what the employer did. It allowed Plaintiff to telecommute four out of five days each week.
And guess what?
Plaintiff’s work performance continued to suffer. Indeed, he missed a deadline on a big project and the company fired him.
So, Plaintiff sued for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging that the employer failed to accommodate his disability.
This isn’t going to end well for someone (Spoiler Alert: Plaintiff)
Hold up. I got this.
To prevail on an ADA failure to accommodate claim, a plaintiff must establish five elements, one of which is that he is otherwise qualified for the position, with or without reasonable accommodation. In other words, somehow, someway, the employee can perform the essential functions of the job.
In this case, the employer had a job description. And that job description, if I can sum it up in Shakespearean prose, required Plaintiff to get stuff done on time.
In this case, Plaintiff wasn’t able to satisfy that requirement; not before he disclosed his disability and not afterward either.
Plus, the employer provided the specific accommodation that Plaintiff requested. Yes, telecommuting five days a week, instead of four, may be reasonable-er. However, the ADA only requires a reasonable accommodation. And, you know what’s reasonable? Giving an employee the very accommodation that the employee’s doctor recommends.
Except, Plaintiff argued to the court, with a straight face I assume, that having to come to the office on Mondays “made no sense.”
Hold up. I got this. Well, maybe I’ll defer to the court:
Plaintiff’s response to the motion for summary judgment argues that the accommodations requested by Plaintiff—specifically, either a private office or the ability to work from home 5 days a week—were reasonable. This argument, however, is irrelevant. The ADA entitles Plaintiff to a reasonable accommodation for his disability, but not the specific reasonable accommodation of his choice. Plaintiff can only defeat Defendant’s motion for summary judgment by demonstrating that a reasonable issue of material fact exists that would allow a juror to conclude that Defendant’s offered accommodation of working from home 4 days per week was not reasonable, and Plaintiff has failed to do so.
Takeaways for employers.
- Make sure that you carefully define the essential functions of each job. Your judgment counts for a lot. Your job description counts more.
- When an employee requests an accommodation, giving them what they want — if it’s reasonable enough — is a damn good way to go.
- An employee who can’t perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation isn’t qualified. In other words, you can separate that employee without violating the ADA.