Duty to Accommodate

A newspaper recently agreed to pay a disabled employee $150,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit.  A commercial print manager for the Jackson Sun took a medical leave of absence from work related to a spinal surgery and subsequent permanent spinal cord damage.  Following his return to work, and after only one week back on the job, the print manager was fired.  An EEOC press release alleges that Jackson Sun did not make a good-faith effort to accommodate the print manager’s disability.

It is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) to terminate an employee because of their disability.  Under the ADA, an individual is disabled if they have/are:  “(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment.”  Further, employers are required by the ADA to provide a reasonable accommodation to the disabled employee, as long as it does not impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business.  The ADA defines “reasonable accommodation” to include:

(A) making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities; and

(B) job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

According to Faye A. Williams, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Memphis District Office, “this situation and lawsuit, [with Jackson Sun] like so many others, could easily have been averted if this company had simply made a good-faith effort at a reasonable accommodation . . . the EEOC will continue to litigate these cases to ensure that employers observe the very reasonable provisions of federal disability rights law.”

Attorney Elizabeth A. Schmidt is an associate attorney with Alan C. Olson & Associates, S.C.  If you have any questions about disability discrimination, please contact her at [email protected].  


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