Are Disabled Employees Entitled To Accommodations To Access The Workplace?
Having litigated employment discrimination cases in Florida courts for more than two decades, our Citrus County, Florida employment lawyers know that employers always try to narrow the scope of their obligations under federal employment discrimination law. By narrowing the scope of their obligations, employers know that they are also limiting the scope of their liability under federal employment discrimination law and ensuring dismissal of many employment discrimination cases. In far too many cases, our Inverness, Florida employment attorneys have learned, courts rubber-stamp the narrow constructions conjured up by employers to federal employment discrimination law and undermine the protections guaranteed to employees by federal employment discrimination law. In this article, our Citrus County, Florida employment lawyers explain how the decision in E.E.O.C. v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plans of Georgia, Case No. 1:19-cv-5484 (N.D. Ga. Aug. 9, 2021) is illustrative of an employer’s unsuccessful attempt to narrow the scope of its obligations under federal employment discrimination law and resulting inability to obtain dismissal of employment discrimination case.
Employment Discrimination Lawsuit
In that case, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Georgia, Inc. (Kaiser) pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed the lawsuit on behalf of an employee of Kaiser, a woman named Murphy. The EEOC claims that Kaiser discriminated against Murphy in violation of the ADA by denying her a reasonable accommodation for her disability.
The EEOC maintains that Murphy is a disabled individual within the meaning of the ADA based on her health condition of claustrophobia. Because her claustrophobia makes it traumatic for her to access Kaiser’s workplace through revolving doors, Murphy requested the reasonable accommodation of using the available non-revolving doors to enter Kaiser’s workplace. Murphy requested the accommodation on January 28, 2017. Kaiser initially denied Murphy’s accommodation request and refused to allow Murphy to use the non-revolving doors as an accommodation for her disability. Instead, Kaiser required Murphy to use the revolving doors Not until July 21, 2017 did Kaiser approve Murphy’s accommodation request and allow her to use the non-revolving doors as an accommodation for her disability.
Although Kaiser ultimately provided Murphy with the accommodation, the EEOC maintains that Kaiser discriminated against Murphy on the basis of her disability by failing to provide the requested accommodation from the date of Murphy’s initial request on January 28, 2017 until the date it finally approved the request on July 21, 2017.
Employer’s Attempt To Limit Scope Of ADA
Kaiser filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Murphy’s disability discrimination claim. In doing so, Kaiser argued that it was not required by the ADA to allow Murphy to use the non-revolving doors as an accommodation for her disability because the ADA does not impose an obligation on employers to make the workplace accessible as an accommodation for disabled employees. Instead, Kaiser argued that employers are obligated to provide disabled employees with an accommodation under the ADA “only if” the accommodation “enables the employee to perform the essential functions of the job,” and, as a consequence, “a failure-to-accommodate claim must be viewed through the perspective of how the requested accommodation would enable the employee to perform her job.”
Having unilaterally narrowed the scope of its reasonable accommodation obligation under the ADA to those which facilitate an employee’s performance of essential job functions, Kaiser maintained that because Murphy’s requested accommodation did not facilitate her ability to perform the essential functions of her job, it was not obligated by the ADA to provide Murphy with the requested accommodation. Under Kaiser’s narrow construction of the ADA, therefore, Kaiser did not discriminate against Murphy on the basis of disability because Murphy was not entitled under the ADA to her requested accommodation.
Court Rejects Employer’s Attempt To ADA’s Scope
The trial court emphatically rejected Kaiser’s narrow construction of an employer’s reasonable accommodation obligation under the ADA. The trial court explained that employers “have two separate reasonable accommodation obligations” under the ADA. One “is the obligation of making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” The “other is the obligation to accommodate employees through job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials, or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.” Thus, the trial court concluded that the ADA “does not limit a reasonable accommodation to those which facilitate an employee’s performance of an essential job function.”
The trial court observed that Murphy’s request for an accommodation implicated an employer’s obligation to make existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities because “the purpose of the accommodation was to make her workplace facility accessible to her as a person as well as an employee with disabilities.” Applying applicable precedent interpreting that obligation under the ADA, the trial court determined that Kaiser “had a reasonable accommodation obligation to make the work facility readily accessible to Murphy,” and that “obligation could easily have been met by allowing Murphy to use a non-revolving door within a reasonable time after she made that request.” Consequently, the trial court determined that Murphy was entitled to proceed to a jury trial on her disability discrimination claim.
Employment Lawyers In Citrus County, FL
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our employment attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have dedicated their practice to representing employment discrimination victims. If you have been fired for a discriminatory reason or have questions about your rights as an employment discrimination victim under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our employment lawyers in Inverness, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes employment discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.