June 22, 2021

Rejecting or Selecting ADA Accommodations

An employee sues his employer for failure to provide reasonable accommodation (RA), discrimination, and creation of a hostile work environment based on disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Why?

After he is coached and counseled on some job performance issues, he disclosed his disability (autism) and submitted a list of ten requests for RA. The employer offered to provide five of the ten requests but found the others to be unreasonable accommodations for his job. After some back and forth, the employer deemed it could not reasonably accommodate the employee in his current position, removed him from it until the employee could enhance his skills and his job performance or transfer to another position, for which they  placed him in a job-reassignment process. The employee declined reassignment as he would not consider any jobs outside his current city location or within it at a lower pay rate. He then took a medical leave of absence and did not return to work. The court found in favor of the employer on all three counts. Why?

Reasonable accommodation. The employer engaged in an interactive dialogue to try to accommodate the employee in his current job or reassign him to another. When the employee expressed no interest in any job, the court found the employee “was responsible for the breakdown of the interactive process seeking reasonable accommodation in refusing to indicate interest in any vacant position.”

Discrimination. The employee was not a qualified individual; he was coached for unsatisfactory work performance before he disclosed his medical condition. “Even if he were qualified, [the employee] was not subject to an adverse employment decision.” His removal from his job was temporary while he looked for another position.

Hostile Work Environment. The employee alleged his supervisor said he should “seek a different career” and he was removed from his job because of his autism. The court found these two statements were “no more than a few harsh words” and did not give rise to a hostile work environment claim.

Lessons Learned. Patience is a virtue and served the employer well in this case. The back and forth about the first request of ten accommodations took place over “several months.” When the first offer of providing five of ten accommodations was declined, the employer did not give up or fire the employee. They not only offered him job reassignment but worked with him, trying to help him find another opportunity that would be a match. When the employee declined those options, they still did not give up. They let him take a medical leave of absence, from which he never returned.