- Grand Hyatt New York violated federal law when it refused to accommodate an employee with a chronic back impairment, the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has alleged in a lawsuit (EEOC v. Grand Hyatt New York, Inc. No. 1:18-CV-07374 (S.D.N.Y., Aug. 5, 2018)).
- The EEOC said that prolonged standing aggravated the front-desk agent's impairment and caused him severe pain. The employee requested permission to sit while working at the front desk and while the hotel initially granted the request, it revoked the accommodation two weeks later.
- The lawsuit seeks back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee's disability, unless the company would suffer an undue hardship as a result.
Accommodation can take various forms. For example, the EEOC says a cashier who easily becomes fatigued because of lupus can be provided with a stool if sitting reduces fatigue. Other accommodations can include making existing facilities accessible; job restructuring; part-time or modified work schedules; acquiring or modifying equipment; changing tests, training materials, or policies; providing qualified readers or interpreters; and reassignment to a vacant position, according to EEOC guidance.
The ADA also favors an informal, interactive accommodation process to determine whether a reasonable accommodation is available. As soon as an employer knows or should know that an employee needs something because of an impairment, the company's responsibility to accommodate is triggered. Failing to engage in the interactive process isn't a stand-alone violation under federal law but it can be evidence of discrimination.
Experts recommend that employers empower managers to grant simple adjustments or policy exemptions, noting that by getting into "ADA land," employers can sometimes turn a small problem in a major issue. Similar to the facts alleged in the Grand Hyatt suit, a federal appeals court recently affirmed a $700,000 jury award against Dollar General for refusing to allow a cashier with diabetes to keep a container of orange juice at the counter because of a company policy.
"A refusal to provide a simple, low-cost accommodation to an individual with a disability is a clear violation of the law. This lawsuit could have easily been avoided if Grand Hyatt New York had done the right thing," an EEOC trial attorney, Kirsten Peters, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
While the facts of each situation will differ — and the ADA requires that each situation receive an individual assessment — EEOC clearly takes the position that permission to sit often will be a reasonable accommodation. "Federal law on disability accommodations is very clear and fair — employers must provide a reasonable accommodation as long as it causes no undue burden," said Kevin Berry, an EEOC district director, in the same statement. "A request for a chair is hardly likely to create such a burden."