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Ninth Circuit Holds that Disability Accommodation May Apply Beyond Merely An Employee’s Ability to Perform Adequately – Continuing Duty Applies To Ongoing Meetings, Training, and Related Aspects of Employment
In EEOC v. UPS Supply Chain Solutions, the Ninth Circuit established important guidelines for employers and employees wrestling with the sometimes difficult issue of “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans With Disabilities Act (commonly referred to as the ADA).
In this case, a UPS employee who was deaf from birth sought a reasonable accommodation so he could fully participate in various company meetings and training sessions, and in addition, so he could be instructed regarding the company’s policy against sexual harassment.
There was no dispute that the employee in question was doing his job adequately. The court duly noted that “The parties do not dispute that Centeno [the employee] was able to complete his job duties without the assistance of an ASL interpreter. The dispute centers on whether UPS provided Centeno with reasonable accommodation for certain benefits and privileges of employment that did not affect his ability to complete his job duties. Those benefits include weekly meetings, job training, and understanding the company’s sexual harassment policy.”
The employee had complained that he could not hear things said at meetings and, after they were conduced, he had to submit notes to a supervisor for an explanation. The employee requested that the employer provide him with an ASL interpreter and contemporaneous record of the meetings so he could fully participate as they were ongoing. The request was turned down, and the EEOC brought proceedings against the employer on the theory that the employer had not “reasonably accommodated” Centeno in the workplace.
The Ninth Circuit noted that “once an employee requests an accommodation . . . the employer must engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine the appropriate reasonable accommodation” and further clarified that the obligation to reasonably accommodate disabled personnel is a “continuing” duty. The court went on to conclude that there was a genuine dispute of fact over whether the employer had adequately discharged its duty in this case. The court said while “an employer has discretion to choose among effective accommodations, and need not provide the employee with the accommodation he or she requests or prefers . . . an employer cannot satisfy its obligations under the ADA by providing an ineffective accommodation.”
The case was remanded back to the trial court to determine if the employer’s proposed solutions were reasonable.
For your convenience, a complete copy of the court’s ruling is attached.
We regularly advise employers, unions, and individual employees about issues that arise in the workplace. Feel free to give us a call if you have questions or issues in this area.