ADA in the News March 20, 2020

Interconnect Cable Technology Corporation Sued by EEOC for Disability Discrimination

Interconnect Cable Technology Corporation (ICTC), an electronics manufacturer in Brooksville, Fla., violated federal law by demoting and later discharging an employee after she was hospitalized for a mental illness, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed yesterday.

According to the EEOC's suit, the employee had worked for ICTC for over 20 years, during which she was repeatedly promoted and held various positions. In June 2019, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with major depressive disorder. When she returned to work the following week, ICTC's chief financial officer immediately stripped the employee of her job duties. Shortly thereafter, ICTC's CFO demoted the employee to a new position and cut her pay. In October 2019, ICTC fired her. 

Disability discrimination violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division (EEOC v. Interconnect Cable Technology Corporation, Case No. 20-644) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settle­ment through its conciliation process. The agency seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages for the employee. The suit also seeks injunctive relief to prevent and correct disability discrimination and training of ICTC's managers and supervisors about federal equal employment opportunity laws.

"The Americans With Disabilities Act celebrates its 30th anniversary this year," said Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the EEOC's Miami District. "Unfortunately, the number of disability discrimination charges filed annually with the EEOC rose last year. The EEOC continues, with this suit, to seek vigorous enforcement of the laws that protect people from this kind of intentional and harmful discrimination."

Sixth Circuit: No Accommodation Without Documentation

Navigating an employee's request for an accommodation pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") can feel like walking a tightrope—an employee's requested accommodation may appear to exceed the limits of all reasonableness, but it can be difficult to know when an employer can finally say "no" without fear of liability. A recent decision from the Sixth Circuit provides helpful guidance on this issue. An employee's failure to fulfill an employer's request for medical documentation supporting the necessity of a requested accommodation precludes a later failure-to-accommodate claim.

In Tchankpa v. Ascena Retail Group, Inc., No. 19-3291 (March 6, 2020), an employee who worked in database support significantly injured his shoulder. As an accommodation for his shoulder, the employee requested that he be able to work from home three days per week or be transferred to a position where he could work from home. The employer, which had already been allowing him to arrive late or leave early as needed to attend medical appointments, asked him to provide medical documentation supporting the necessity of that accommodation. Approximately 10 months later, the employee finally provided documentation from his physician; but, while that documentation confirmed his injury, it said nothing about why he allegedly needed to work from home. To the contrary, it stated that the employee could work full time, five days per week.

In an unanimous opinion, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the employer on the employee's failure-to-accommodate claim. The court reiterated that an accommodation is "reasonable" under the ADA only if it actually addresses an obstacle that prevents the employee from doing his or her job. The employee inTchankpa could not satisfy this burden, as he failed to show how working from home was related to his shoulder disability. Additionally, the court reiterated that employees "cannot justify accommodations for the first time during litigation." In litigation, the employee claimed that he sought the work-from-home accommodation to avoid transporting heavy laptops; but, because he did not tell his employer that when requesting the accommodation, he could not rely on that justification to support his claim.

The court further explained that an employer has the right to request medical documentation supporting an employee's requested accommodation. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.14(c). As a result, once an employer asks for medical documentation demonstrating the medical necessity of a requested accommodation, it has "no duty" to provide the accommodation unless and until the employee supplies the medical documentation. But, the Tchankpa court clarified that if the employer does not ask for such documentation, an employee may be able to succeed on a failure-to-accommodate claim without it.

In sum, Tchankpa identifies a key tool for employers navigating the ADA. Ask for medical documentation supporting the necessity of the requested accommodation. If the employee cannot produce such documentation from his or her medical provider, the employer generally will not have a duty to provide the requested accommodation.

To read the Sixth Circuit's full opinion in Tchankpa, please click here.

Martin Marietta Materials : Federal Court In North Carolina Rules Regarding Reasonable Accommodations

On February 24, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina issued an opinion in Brown v. Martin Marietta Materials, Inc. regarding disability discrimination, reasonable accommodations, and retaliation involving an employee who was unable to return to work following expiration of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. The case offers employers some guidance regarding the undue hardship analysis at a micro and macro level, ensuring compliance with the interactive process, and the best practice for handling requests for finite leave when the possibility of additional future leave is evident.

Ethan Brown, a former truck driver, alleged disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and North Carolina public policy, as well as retaliation under the FMLA, against his former employer, Martin Marietta Materials, Inc. The district court granted summary judgment as to Brown's FMLA retaliation claim and certain public policy claims, and denied summary judgment as to Brown's ADA claim and remaining public policy claims.

Disabled Brookings woman sues police for citing, then chasing her for riding mobility scooter on sidewalk

A disabled Brookings woman has filed a civil rights suit against Brookings police, alleging they unlawfully stopped her and violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act when they cited her for riding her mobile electric scooter on a sidewalk without a helmet and then chased her when she continued to ride home.

Jennifer Gayman, 49, is seeking $500,000 in damages, plus a judgment for unspecified punitive damages under the federal suit filed in the U.S. District Court in Medford this week.

EEOC: What You Should Know About the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and COVID-19

·        The EEOC enforces workplace anti-discrimination laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, including the requirement for reasonable accommodation and rules about medical examinations and inquiries.

·        The ADA and Rehabilitation Act rules continue to apply, but they do not interfere with or prevent employers from following the guidelines and suggestions made by the CDC or state/local public health authorities about steps employers should take regarding COVID-19. Employers should remember that guidance from public health authorities is likely to change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Therefore, employers should continue to follow the most current information on maintaining workplace safety.

·        The EEOC has provided guidance (a publication entitled Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act), consistent with these workplace protections and rules, that can help employers implement strategies to navigate the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace. This pandemic publication, which was written during the prior H1N1 outbreak, is still relevant today and identifies established ADA and Rehabilitation Act principles to answer questions frequently asked about the workplace during a pandemic. It has been updated as of March 19, 2020 to address examples and information regarding COVID-19; the new information appears in bold.

·        The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 to be an international pandemic. The EEOC pandemic publication includes aseparate section that answers common employer questions about what to do after a pandemic has been declared. Applying these principles to the COVID-19 pandemic, the following may be useful: 

o   How much information may an employer request from an employee who calls in sick, in order to protect the rest of its workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic?

§  During a pandemic, ADA-covered employers may ask such employees if they are experiencing symptoms of the pandemic virus. For COVID-19, these include symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. Employers must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA.

o   When may an ADA-covered employer take the body temperature of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic?

§  Generally, measuring an employee's body temperature is a medical examination. Because the CDC and state/local health authorities have acknowledged community spread of COVID-19 and issued attendant precautions, employers may measure employees' body temperature. However, employers should be aware that some people with COVID-19 do not have a fever.

o   Does the ADA allow employers to require employees to stay home if they have symptoms of the COVID-19?

§  Yes. The CDC states that employees who become ill with symptoms of COVID-19 should leave the workplace. The ADA does not interfere with employers following this advice.

o   When employees return to work, does the ADA allow employers to require doctors' notes certifying their fitness for duty?

§  Yes. Such inquiries are permitted under the ADA either because they would not be disability-related or, if the pandemic influenza were truly severe, they would be justified under the ADA standards for disability-related inquiries of employees. As a practical matter, however, doctors and other health care professionals may be too busy during and immediately after a pandemic outbreak to provide fitness-for-duty documentation. Therefore, new approaches may be necessary, such as reliance on local clinics to provide a form, a stamp, or an e-mail to certify that an individual does not have the pandemic virus.

o   If an employer is hiring, may it screen applicants for symptoms of COVID-19?

§  Yes. An employer may screen job applicants for symptoms of COVID-19 after making a conditional job offer, as long as it does so for all entering employees in the same type of job. This ADA rule applies whether or not the applicant has a disability.

o   May an employer take an applicant's temperature as part of a post-offer, pre-employment medical exam?

§  Yes. Any medical exams are permitted after an employer has made a conditional offer of employment. However, employers should be aware that some people with COVID-19 do not have a fever.

o   May an employer delay the start date of an applicant who has COVID-19 or symptoms associated with it?

§  Yes. According to current CDC guidance, an individual who has COVID-19 or symptoms associated with it should not be in the workplace.

o   May an employer withdraw a job offer when it needs the applicant to start immediately but the individual has COVID-19 or symptoms of it?

§  Based on current CDC guidance, this individual cannot safely enter the workplace, and therefore the employer may withdraw the job offer.

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