- Comcast did not fail to accommodate an employee's disability by declining to reassign her, a federal district court judge has ruled (Turcotte v. Comcast Cable Communications Management, LLC, No. 17-cv-150 (N.H. Feb. 14, 2019)). The judge granted Comcast summary judgment on all counts after the former employee alleged it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- After Brenda Turcotte's position was automated, she was transferred to a dispatch job. Her performance suffered because, according to her complaint, the high volume of inbound calls exacerbated her anxiety and panic attacks. She eventually took leave and requested reassignment but, according to the court, largely sought positions with requirements similar to those of the dispatch job. She also struggled to provide medical documentation to support her requests, failed to follow protocol for applying for jobs internally and eventually took an intern position with a finite end date, ultimately ending her employment with Comcast.
- The judge granted summary judgment to Comcast on all of Turcotte's claims, specifically noting that because she was requesting a transfer that would have had her performing the same job functions, "it defies logic to argue that those jobs would have been a reasonable accommodation. If she could perform this function, Comcast would have no obligation to accommodate her at all."
Turcotte illustrates the weight that courts place on the ADA's interactive process. Managers need to be trained to dedicate extra time and effort to employees with disabilities when determining accommodations, David K. Fram, the director of ADA and Equal Employment Opportunity services for the National Employment Law Institute, told HR Dive in a previous interview. Based on the court's order, Comcast's efforts to accommodate Turcotte appear to have been exemplary; managers and HR representatives set aside time to train, retrain, counsel and conduct internal job searches with Turcotte.
What's more, the interactive process seems to have faltered when Turcotte failed to respond to requests for information from the company and failed to notify the company of her intentions.The ADA doesn't mandate a specific interactive process, but courts certainly tend to favor employers that carry out the interactive process well. An employer causing the breakdown of the process, for example, can serve as evidence of disability discrimination. Similarly, evidence that a breakdown was an employee's fault can help an employer defend later claims.
To ensure managers get the interactive process right, employers can start by training them to recognize the need for an accommodation, Haynes and Boone, LLP, Partner Adam Sencenbaugh previously told HR Dive. As the judge noted in Turcotte, an employee need not use special language — like "accommodation," for example — to communicate a need. Managers must realize when an employee needs help because of an impairment and guide the process from there.