- No reasonable jury could find that an employer knew of a worker's disability because he failed to characterize his condition as "anything other than a one-time injury of the sort that would not qualify as a disability" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or state law, the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled (Longway v. Myers Industries, Inc., No. 19-1770 (2nd Cir. May 26, 2020)).
- Jesse Longway argued on appeal that his employer, Myers Industries Inc., knew about his pancreatitis, which he said was a disability, but failed to provide reasonable accommodations. He said there was a causal connection between his actual or perceived disability and the termination of his employment. Longway sued Myers Industries claiming disability discrimination, failure to accommodate and retaliation under state and federal law.
- The appeals court said it agreed with the district court that, based on Longway's account of his conversations with his employer, no reasonable jury could find that the employer "had any reason to know that he had pancreatitis or another medical condition that substantially limited a major life activity," as disabilities must do to qualify under the ADA. Longway had communicated with his supervisor that he had received medical treatment, but said he was being released from the hospital with "no restrictions physically" and could return to work the following day. He conceded that he had not told his supervisor or anyone else at Myer Industries that he had pancreatitis. He also did not complete the short-term disability form that his supervisor sent him, the appeals court said.
Most of the time the onus is on the individual with a disability to inform an employer of the need for an accommodation, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity's "Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA."
An employee's request for a reasonable accommodation doesn't require "magic words" or have to be in writing, although an employer can ask the employee to fill out a form or submit the request in writing. The individual may use "plain English" and need not mention the ADA or use the phrase "reasonable accommodation," EEOC says.
The agency notes that there a limited set of circumstances in which an employer should start the reasonable accommodation interactive process:
- When the employer knows that the employee has a disability.
- When the employer knows or has reason to know, that the employee is experiencing workplace problems because of the disability.
- When the employer knows, or has reason to know, that the disability prevents the employee from requesting a reasonable accommodation. However, if the individual with a disability states a reasonable accommodation is not needed, the employer has fulfilled its obligation.
The court also said Longway's retaliation claim failed because the employer had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason – he missed too many days of work — for letting him go. Employers can offer a solid defense to claims of bias, harassment, discrimination or retaliation when they can appropriately justify an adverse employment action. The U.S. Forest Service prevailed in a lawsuit last year, for example, because it was able to show that a worker's reassignment was the result of budget cuts, not gender and age bias.