- A request for a new supervisor as a disability accommodation is not "reasonable" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held in (Sessoms v. The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania dba The University of Pennsylvania Health System, No. 17-2369 (3d Cir., June 20, 2018)).
- Andrea Sessoms, a human resources information systems coordinator, had mental and physical disabilities. She started making mistakes at work that she attributed to her impairments but, she alleged, her supervisor declared her medical issues irrelevant and said she didn't care. Sessoms formally requested disability accommodations, including part-time work, a transfer to a different department and a different supervisor. The employer agreed to the part-time schedule but declined her request for a new supervisor and a new department. Sessoms declined and was fired. She sued and a district court granted summary judgment for the employer.
- One appeal, the 3rd Circuit rejected Sessoms' argument that the employer failed to engage in a good-faith effort to accommodate her disabilities. "Where an employee requests an accommodation in the form of a transfer, she must make a showing that this accommodation is possible, i.e., the existence of an equivalent-level, vacant position for which the employee could qualify," the court said, citing circuit precedent. Furthermore, "[r]easonable accommodation does not entitle an employee to a supervisor ideally suited to her needs," it added.
The ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities unless the company would suffer an undue hardship as a result.
Accommodations can include alterations to facilities; job restructuring; part-time or modified work schedules; leave; acquiring or modifying equipment; changing tests, training materials or policies; providing qualified readers or interpreters; or reassignment to a vacant position, according to a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance document.
And while employers don't have to grant an employee's preferred accommodation, they are expected to engage in an interactive, good-faith process to determine appropriate accommodations. Failing to engage in the interactive process isn't a stand-alone violation, at least under federal law, but it can be evidence of discrimination.
In Sessoms, the plaintiff also argued that the employer should have been more proactive in offering accommodations, but the court wasn't persuaded, noting that it's generally the employee's responsibility to begin the process. Courts also have largely held that workers are responsible for showing that an accommodation was available, if they're challenging an employer's compliance with the law.
On the other hand, if an employer knows that an employee needs assistance because of an impairment — and that they're unable to ask for it — it can be up to the employer to start the process.