For want of a chair: Mistakes made in an ADA case

The refusal to provide a chair as an accommodation may prove to be very expensive.

Sometimes you just wonder what people are thinking.  A recent ADA case demonstrates what I mean.

The situation

An employee was working in a long-term temporary position and had been for several years. He had a kidney condition that was getting worse, but he was able to continue to work with an accommodation. He provided a doctor’s confirmation that bending and twisting aggravated his condition so he requested an accommodation of being able to sit in a chair while performing the job. He also offered other accommodations, such as reassignment to another job, such as the assembly line. Neither the temporary agency nor the employer accepted these accommodations and he was promptly fired. After first attempting a pre-litigation settlement through the EEOC’s conciliation process, the EEOC filed suit and is seeking back pay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages for the employee, as well as injunctive relief designed to prevent future discrimination.

Is it worth it?

This is already costing the two companies a lot of money in attorney’s fees. Is it worth it? My guess is that the companies will lose this case. They did not engage in the interactive process required by the ADAAA. The employee was still capable of performing the essential functions of the job, albeit with some discomfort. The employee’s performance was acceptable, so there was no performance issue associated with the employee that necessitated his dismissal. It was just the lack of desire to provide an accommodation. The company had not produced any compelling business reason to not accommodate the employee. The conclusion that the EEOC has reached is that the two companies are discriminating on the basis of a disability. In my opinion, their chances, in this case, are dim.
For the want of a chair, they will spend a lot of money and most likely lose. Not very smart HR.

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