Monday, August 28, 2017

A lesson in how to provide a reasonable accommodation

This reasonable accommodation case brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act holds that a schoolteacher does not state a claim in arguing that the school district violated the ADA in failing timely to grant his accommodation request to teach sixth grade rather than first grade.

The case is Wenc v. New London Board of Education, a summary order decided on August 21. Disabled employees are entitled to a reasonable accommodation if that accommodation allows them to perform the essential functions of their job. This case covers two separate school years.

For the 2011-12 school year, plaintiff's doctor wrote a note stating that it was in plaintiff's "best interest" not to return to work that year because of his medical condition. While the doctor stated that a sixth grade classroom would "be more suitable" for him, that same note stated that it remained in plaintiff's "best interest to be out of work." The Court of Appeals (Raggi, Pooler and Hall) holds that the district did not have a legal responsibility to be more proactive in opening a dialogue with plaintiff over his return to work. This is because an employer is not liable for failing to engage in the interactive process when the employee cannot perform the essential duties of his position.

For the 2012-13 school year, a neutral doctor said plaintiff could work with the assistance of two classroom aides. Since the district gave plaintiff a second classroom aide, it reasonably accommodated his disability in helping him to attend to the "higher physical demands of the first grade students" who, I am sure, were difficult if not completely out of control and possibly even out of their minds. Plaintiff argues that the doctor's opinion means the district should have given him two additional classroom aides rather than the two aides that he received. The Court of Appeals rejects this nuanced argument. "The assigned additional aide was intended to substitute for the physical efforts of only one person, and Wenc himself agreed that the aide was satisfactory."

This holding reminds us that the ADA does not require the defendant to provide plaintiff with the best possible accommodation. It is enough for the accommodation to be good enough for the plaintiff to perform the essential job functions.

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