Thursday, July 13, 2023

A disabled employee is entitled to a “reasonable” accommodation, not a “preferred” accommodation

Jay Hannah worked as a package delivery driver for UPS. He developed hip bursitis, which caused pain in his lower back, hip, and buttocks. As a result, he requested two alternative reasonable accommodations: either that UPS allow him to drive his route with a smaller truck with softer suspension or that UPS reassign him to a non-driving inside job. 

UPS denied both requests. It determined that the specific needs of Hannah's route required a larger truck, and that the smaller van had an insufficient capacity to service his route. Other possible alternatives that could have permitted Hannah to use a smaller truck — giving a part of his route to another driver or completing the route himself in multiple trips — were not feasible as each would violate the governing collective bargaining agreement. Further, there were no openings for inside work at the time. UPS advised Hannah that it would consider him for any openings as they arose.

While UPS denied Hannah the particular accommodations he requested, it did allow him to retain his job and take a leave of absence without pay until he could return to work. And after several months, Hannah did return to work and thereafter continued to drive the route to which he was assigned in a truck suited for that route.

After returning to work, Hannah sued UPS under the ADA for its failure to provide him with either of his requested accommodations.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's dismissal of Hannah's lawsuit on UPS's summary judgment motion.

It is well settled that the "ultimate discretion" to choose among reasonable accommodations rests with the employer.… And it is also clear that the ADA specifically authorizes unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation.… While a period of unpaid leave might not always be a reasonable accommodation, such leave may be reasonable where the disability that interferes with an employee's capacity to complete assigned tasks is temporary and there is reason to believe that a leave of absence will provide a period during which the employee will be able to recover and return to work.… Such was the case here. During the leave-of-absence accommodation provided by UPS, Hannah received treatment, and, when he felt ready, he returned to full-time employment as a UPS package delivery driver. That Hannah would have preferred to be accommodated in some other way does not support a claim of discrimination under the ADA.

In other words, as long as an employer engages in the interactive process with a disabled employee to offer a reasonable accommodation that enables the employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job, the employee has not legal beef that the offered accommodation isn't the employee's requested or preferred accommodation.