- A player with the New York Jets has sued the National Football League (NFL), claiming the NFL discriminated against him on the basis of a disability (Miles v. National Football League, No. 19-cv-18327 (N.J. Superior Ct. Sept. 25, 2019)).
- In his complaint, Rontez Miles said he has a condition called alopecia areata that causes, among other things, a sensitivity to light. He had been using an eye shield in conjunction with his helmet and face guard for his entire football career until a 2017 preseason game, when an NFL official told him he could not play unless he removed it. Miles and others told the official about his condition, the complaint alleged, but the official continued to insist that he remove the shield. Miles played without it and suffered a broken orbital bone when another player collided with him during the game; he said he was unable to take appropriate defensive measures due to the bright sunlight.
- Miles alleged that the NFL violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and New Jersey law by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation and failing to engage in the interactive process, leading to severe and permanent injuries.
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities, unless an accommodation would create undue hardship (which can be a difficult legal standard to meet). Employees and employers commonly arrive at a mutually agreeable accommodation via an interactive process, but employers often fall short in this area, experts have told HR Dive.
Managers may be inadequately trained or resistant to the interactive process, both of which can create obstacles to compliance. Additionally, as Miles alleged in this case, a satisfactory and well-established accommodation can be undermined by a single person who is misinformed or uninformed about what the ADA requires.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has said the interactive process requires communication about the precise nature of the problem that is prompting the request, how a disability is triggering a need for an accommodation and alternative accommodations that could potentially be effective. An accommodation need not be the exact one an employee requests in order to be considered reasonable.
Experts recommend that employers have clear policies instructing employees to contact HR if an accommodation is required; train supervisors and managers on the ADA; request medical documentation as needed (but only when needed); ensure that job descriptions stay true to actual job duties; maintain flexibility; keep moving the interactive process forward; and document all discussions and agreements in writing.