Employers Must Provide Reasonable Accommodations for Disabled Workers to get to Work

During her employment as a cashier with Rite-Aid, Jeanette Colwell became blind in one eye due to a medical condition completely unrelated to her employment. Ms. Colwell informed her supervisors that it became difficult for her to drive at night due to her blindness and provided a note from her doctor regarding the same. Her supervisor, however, refused to schedule her exclusively during the day because the supervisor felt it would be unfair to other employees. Ms. Colwell eventually resigned her employment by submitting a note indicating that she felt she was treated unfairly.

Handicap.tag.carMs. Colwell brought suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act “ADA” and the state equivalent. She argued that Rite-Aid constructively discharged her, failed to accommodate her blindness, and retaliated against her because of her disability. The parties agreed that Ms. Colwell did not require an accommodation once she arrived in the workplace, and the District Court therefore found that Rite-Aid did not fail to accommodate Colwell’s disability. Colwell’s constructive discharge and retaliation claims were also summarily dismissed by the lower federal court.

On Colwell’s appeal, Rite-Aid argued that it had no duty to even consider changing Ms. Colwell’s shift because Colwell’s difficulties amounted to a commuting problem unrelated to the workplace, and the ADA does not require employers to accommdate such issues. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and held that changing Ms. Colwell’s working schedule to day shifts in order to alleviate her disability-related difficulties in getting to work is a type of accommodation that the ADA contemplates, even though it was technically outside of the workplace and working hours.  Employers are required under the ADA to provide reasonable accommdations to help alleviate their disabled employees’ difficulties in getting to work, so employees should readily communicate those needs to their employers in order to intiate the process of accommodation.

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