An employer that refuses to accommodate an employee’s disability can still win an ADA lawsuit. Here’s how.


The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for a qualified individual with a disability unless doing so will impose an undue hardship on its business. A plaintiff who claims that their employer failed to accommodate them must initially establish that they could perform the position’s essential functions and that the employer refused to provide an accommodation.

Most courts have found that an employer’s good faith attempt to accommodate is insufficient. However, those courts will not impose liability unless the plaintiff establishes an alternative reasonable accommodation.

Here is a recent example involving a Virginia resource teacher for kindergarten through second grade. She suffered from a respiratory disease with symptoms similar to asthma and couldn’t be around mold or dust. Consistent with the doctor’s notes the plaintiff provided, the defendant tried to accommodate her by relocating her workspace and conducting indoor air quality testing. But, the plaintiff argued that she was still exposed to contaminants.

The plaintiff requested full-time remote work. However, the defendant did not acquiesce because it felt that spending time at work was part of the plaintiff’s essential job functions.

And the court was kind of like, yeah, plaintiff, you’re a teacher.

More specifically (and less colloquially), the court concluded that the plaintiff could not carry her burden of showing how allowing her to work remotely full-time was reasonable.

Sure, the plaintiff filed an affidavit in which she subjectively viewed fully remote work as a reasonable accommodation. However, the court juxtaposed her affidavit against her deposition testimony, where the plaintiff conceded that attendance at work was so important that whenever she was planning, she had to access a particular room at the school. She further testified that supporting other teachers required her presence in the classroom.

Further, when presented with the defendant’s argument that spending time at school was essential, the plaintiff did not argue that any of the tasks that concededly required her in-person presence were only “marginally relevant” and, therefore, not essential functions within the meaning of the ADA. Instead, she responded that her fully remote work request was reasonable because these tasks took less time than others that could be done remotely.

She also argued that other teachers could have picked up the slack for her while she worked remotely. However, that argument also fails because employers never have to reassign essential job functions to others as an ADA accommodation.

All told, the plaintiff presented no evidence of an accommodation that would have allowed her to perform the job’s essential functions.

Case dismissed.

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