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ADA Accommodations Cases

January 20, 2011

Federal district courts have denied summary judgment to employers in two recent cases—both of which are still in the courts—involving requests for accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act, holding in both cases that accommodations were not implemented or were inadequate.

In the first case, Sarah Alastra, a part-time teller at National City Bank, had epilepsy that resulted in recurring seizures. After several absences because of the seizures, Alastra was warned that she faced possible termination. She requested a start time of 10 a.m. or later to allow her to sleep longer, thereby cutting down on her seizures and the resulting need to take leave. Alastra had two more seizure-related absences and was terminated for excessive absences before she could come to an agreement with her supervisors.

The U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit denied National City’s motion for summary judgment, holding that it failed to establish that the ability to work on a consistent basis and fill in for absent full-time tellers whose shifts began before 9 a.m. were essential functions of the job for a part-time teller. The district court held that a jury could find that National City had failed to accommodate Alastra. Alastra v. National City Corp., E.D. Mich., No. 2:08-cv-15265 (Nov. 16, 2010).

In a second case, the U.S. District Court District of Maryland in Baltimore denied summary judgment to an employer who failed to provide a deaf employee with an interpreter for regular meetings. Life Technologies had provided the employee with interpreters for some meetings, written materials for others and opportunities for the employee to meet one on one with his supervisor through written notes. The company argued that these steps enabled him to perform essential job functions. The district court held that the ADA requires accommodations that both minimally permit disabled employees to do their job and provide “full access to the benefits and privileges of employment.” EEOC v. Life Technologies Corp., D. Md., No. 1:09-cv-02569 (Nov. 4, 2010).

IMPACT: Employers must not only engage in the interactive process, whereby an employer engages in a dialogue with the employee to find a reasonable accommodation, but also must ensure that such accommodations are fully implemented in a timely manner.

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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.