A “Reasonable Accommodation” Must Be Reasonable

By William E. O'Gara

March 12, 2020

For employers determining what constitutes a “reasonable accommodation” can often be a challenge. A very recent decision by a federal court in Connecticut highlights the fact that what constitutes “reasonable” is not without limits, and an employer is not obligated to create new positions or allow employees to work without supervision. Wang v. HP, Inc., Civil No. 3:17-cv-2096 (D. Conn. 2020).

In Wang, the Plaintiff, who suffered from depression and anxiety, worked remotely from his Connecticut home for Defendant HP, Inc. Soon thereafter, Plaintiff was informed of a corporate initiative encouraging all remote employees to “return to the office,” even if it meant relocating.

Plaintiff refused to relocate from Connecticut to Idaho, and later requested short-term disability leave, which was then extended to long-term disability leave because Plaintiff was “medically unable to perform the functions of his former position.” Plaintiff was ultimately terminated almost two years later because he was unable to find a vacant position for which he was qualified to fill at HP, Inc. Plaintiff then filed suit asserting that HP, Inc. violated the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by denying two separate requests for accommodation: (1) the first request being that he worked only twenty hours a week without contact with his former supervisor and colleagues, and (2) the second request providing a job assignment after he was approved to return to work thirty hours weekly.

A basic fact a plaintiff must prove in an ADA case is that an “effective accommodation exists” that would allow him to perform his job. The Court ruled that a request to change supervisors was unreasonable. The Court noted that the Plaintiff requested to “be employed in a setting, and workgroup in which he will have no day to day contact with former fellow employees and/or supervisors,” but Plaintiff offered no evidence that within the context of his particular workplace, this was a reasonable accommodation. In fact, this request would have essentially required the Defendant create a new position or allow Plaintiff to work without supervision which the Court held were not reasonable accommodations.

For further information, please contact PLDO Principal William E. O’Gara at 401-824-5100 or email wogara@pldolaw.com.

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