2nd Cir.: Employees not entitled to preferred accommodation
- A hospital did not fail to provide an accommodation for a deaf employee, nor did it retaliate against her in firing her, an appeals court ruled, affirming a lower court's decision to grant summary judgment for the employer (Hazelwood v. Highland Hospital, No. 17-cv-4139 (2nd Cir. Feb. 28, 2019)).
- Highland Hospital provided Elizabeth Hazelwood an effective reasonable accommodation in asking her colleagues and supervisors to relay test results on her behalf to the physicians requesting them, the court said; it did not have to provide the sign language interpreter and videophone that she requested. "Employers are not required to provide an accommodation that the employee prefers — all that is required is that the employer provide an effective accommodation," the 2nd Circuit said.
- Highland Hospital also did not retaliate against Hazelwood after she complained about discrimination, it determined. The court held that Hazelwood's complaint lacked specific allegations that she was unable to establish a connection between her discrimination complaint and her termination. Supporting the employer's argument further, her supervisors warned her about her poor performance "months before she complained to management," the court said.
When employers follow the ADA's guidelines and provide reasonable accommodations in a timely manner, they may shield themselves from ADA-related claims, as Hazelwood v. Highland Hospital demonstrated.
To achieve this, however, employers may need to ensure that managers are trained to recognize accommodation requests. When employees alert HR or their managers to a difficulty related to a physical or mental impairment, it's important those clued in act quickly; delay can be seen as evidence of discrimination, David K. Fram, director of ADA and EEO services for the National Employment Law Institute, previously told HR Dive. Individuals tasked with assisting employees with disabilities will then need to engage in the interactive process, communicating with workers to find and implement solutions that will enable them to perform the essential functions of their jobs.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, reasonable accommodations can include:
- Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities;
- Job restructuring, modifying work schedules or reassignment to a vacant position; and
- Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.
As the court noted, employers are not obligated to grant the reasonable accommodation the employee in question prefers. Employers must simply provide an accommodation that allows employees with disabilities to do their jobs, unless doing so would cause the organization undue burden.
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