Thursday, December 9, 2010

6th Circuit places burden on a disabled employee to propose a reasonable accommodation

Despite the breadth of the 2009 amendments to Americans with Disabilities Act, not all disabled employees receive the benefit of the Act’s protection. Instead, the Act only protects those employees who are “qualified,” that is, able to perform all of the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. If necessary to determine the appropriate reasonable accommodation, the ADA’s regulations require an employer to “initiate an informal, interactive process with the qualified individual with a disability in need of the accommodation. This process should identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability and potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations.”

Whose burden is it, however, to propose a reasonable accommodation to account for an employee’s disability? According to Jakubowski v. The Christ Hosp., Inc. (12/8/10) [pdf], the burden falls squarely on the employee.

Dr. Martin Jakubowski suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a severe and sustained impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning, with a marked impairment in the ability to regulate social interaction and communication. Following his diagnosis, the hospital terminated his employment. Before the termination, the hospital met with Dr. Jakubowski to discuss various accommodations for his poor communications skills, all of which he rejected. Because he did not propose another accommodation, the hospital met its burden to engage in the interactive process, and he could not proceed on his discrimination claim:

Jakubowski contends that Christ Hospital did not act in good faith because it did not offer him a remediation program similar to the one offered to the previous, unnamed resident who exhibited similar deficiencies. Importantly, Jakubowski did not request a remediation program at the accommodation meeting with Christ Hospital….

Christ Hospital … met with Jakubowski to discuss his proposed accommodations, and told him that the hospital lacked sufficient resources to comply. [It] also offered to help him find a pathology residency because it would involve less patient contact…. Because Christ Hospital met with Jakubowski, considered his proposed accommodations, informed him why they were unreasonable, offered assistance in finding a new pathology residency, and never hindered the process along the way, we agree that there is no dispute that Christ Hospital participated in the interactive accommodation process in good faith.

The ADA does not require an employer to offer a disabled employee the most reasonable accommodation, or the employee’s preferred accommodation. Instead, it only requires the employer to offer a reasonable accommodation, one which enables the employee to perform all of the essential functions of the job. If an employer meets this burden, the employee cannot complain that the employer rejected a proposed accommodation that did not address all essential functions, or failed to implement an accommodation that the employee did not propose.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus. For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or