Few things makes me madder than when I see a car that lacks a disabled designation parked in a handicap parking space. Many a trip to the supermarket is punctuated by a conversation about why so and so thinks it’s okay to park in that spot. In my younger days, I even went so as to confront the apparent offender, but I’ve mellowed a touch with age.
When I read last week’s EEOC press release announcing the filing of a disability discrimination lawsuit against Sysco Oklahoma LLC, I wondered if I would have counseled the employer to have acted any differently (minus one key fact):
According to the EEOC’s suit, Amanda Thompson, who worked for Sysco as a customer relations expert from December 2008, was observed parking in one of the employer’s unreserved handicap parking spaces in February 2009. The same day, Sysco demanded Thompson provide Sysco a physician’s full medical release, notwithstanding the fact that Thompson had been performing her job satisfactorily at all times. Several days later, before the deadline for providing the medical release had passed, Sysco terminated Thompson’s employment.
Even the EEOC’s own policy guidance discussing reasonable accommodations permits an employer to “ask the individual for reasonable documentation about his/her disability and functional limitations” when the disability or need for an accommodation is not obvious. The EEOC’s hyperbole notwithstanding, the employer’s fatal flaw was not in asking for the doctor’s note to verify the need for the handicap parking space, but in taking action before it’s own self-imposed deadline.