- The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has revived a worker's disability discrimination suit, reversing part of a lower court's ruling that federal law did not require an employer to excuse the employee's assertion that he hated working with women, even if the outburst was caused by a disability, (Kassa v. Synovus Financial Corporation, No. 19-10441 (11th Cir. Feb. 3, 2020)).
- The employee, an individual with bipolar disorder and intermittent explosive disorder, requested accommodations, including breaks to control his temper. His requests were denied and he was fired after an outburst in which he allegedly said "I hate working with women." He sued and, after a district court granted summary judgment for the employer, he appealed to the 11th Circuit.
- The appeals court affirmed summary judgment on all claims except a failure-to-accommodate charge. The court said the plaintiff had been granted this accommodation in his previous role "with positive results," and that his manager had generally permitted customer-service employees to take breaks when they became frustrated. The 11th Circuit vacated summary judgment on the accommodation claim and remanded for further proceedings.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would create an undue hardship, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
As the 11th Circuit noted in Kassa, "an employer's failure to provide a reasonable accommodation is itself a violation of the ADA," noting that this explains in part why the employer was not eligible for summary judgment on the plaintiff's accommodation claim.
Other federal courts have ruled that breaks are not a reasonable accommodation in certain scenarios, however. In a July 2018 ruling, for example, the 6th Circuit ruled that a receptionist with a genetic disorder who requested an extended lunch break to exercise failed to demonstrate that the requested accommodation was necessary.
Overall, employers can be proactive in avoiding ADA discrimination claims if they engage in a good-faith, interactive process with employees who seek an accommodation and document the process. Employment law experts also have previously told HR Dive that employers may want to train supervisors to give "preferential treatment," in certain circumstances, to workers requesting an accommodation under the ADA. That may mean exempting a worker from a policy or providing special equipment.