Recent Favorable Ruling Regarding Employer's Duty to Accommodate

Recent Favorable Ruling Regarding Employer's Duty to Accommodate

Under the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, when an employee is disabled, the employee and employer must collaborate in good faith to determine what accommodations the employee needs. [1] The 7th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals recently considered whether the trial court had properly dismissed a failure to accommodate claim, and ordered the trial court to reexamine this issue. [2]

Lawler, the plaintiff-employee, taught for nine years in the Peoria School District (“the District”). [3] Throughout, she performed her job satisfactorily and achieved tenure. In 2010, she had a relapse in her previously diagnosed post traumatic distress (“PTSD”) condition. [4] That same year, the District transferred her to another school to teach children with emotional behavioral disorders. [5] In her second year of teaching at that school, a student injured Lawler, which required hospitalization and retriggering her PTSD condition.[6] As a result, Lawler, at her psychiatrist’s recommendation, requested a transfer to another school.[7] Lawler submitted letters from her doctor recommending she take a leave of absence for the remainder of the school year and then be reassigned to a different classroom at the start of the new year.[8] In response, the school “accelerated her next performance appraisal, rated her as unsatisfactory, and fired her as part of an announced reduction in force.” [9] Lawler brought suit, alleging that the District had failed to accommodate her PTSD disability and had fired her in retaliation for having requested an accommodation. [10]

The appellate court in Lawler ruled that the District’s outright denial of Lawler’s request for a transfer demonstrated the District did not make a reasonable effort to explore possible accommodations for Lawler. [11] Further, when Lawler made the request for accommodations, the District made no effort to follow up on or review the request. [12] The appeals court found that though an employee is not entitled to an accommodation of her choice, Lawler’s disability demonstrated a potential need for a transfer that could easily have been met since there were multiple openings in the District. [13] Therefore, a reasonable jury could find that the District could have accommodated Lawler’s disability, and that the District failed to participate in the interactive process to provide accommodations. [14] The decision reflects the ADA’s requirement that employers work with employees with disabilities to ensure they have equal opportunity in their employment.

If you believe your disability has not been accommodated or that you have been discriminated against, feel free to contact the Law Offices of Fern Trevino to schedule a consultation.

[1] Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101.

[2] Lawler v. Peoria School District 150, No. 15-2976 (7th Cir., Sept. 16, 2016).

[3] Id.

[4]Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

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