Failure-to-Accommodate-Disability Claims Dismissed

In Gray v. Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES, 2020 WL 1029022 (N.D.N.Y. March 3, 2020), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s “failure to accommodate disability” claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Specifically, plaintiff claims that she was denied access to requested lunch breaks as an accommodation for her qualified disability so as to attend to the symptoms of her Hashimoto’s disease, and that defendant denied her disability-related accommodations by terminating her employment rather than permitting her to take the medical leave directed by her doctor.

The court summarized the law relating to this type of claim:

Under the ADA, employers are required to make “reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability … unless such covered entity can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A). To establish a prima facie failure to accommodate claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) [the] plaintiff is a person with a disability under the meaning of the ADA; (2) an employer covered by the statute had notice of his [or her] disability; (3) with reasonable accommodation, [the] plaintiff could perform the essential functions of the job at issue; and (4) the employer has refused to make such accommodations.” McMillan, 711 F.3d at 125–26. Here, the parties only dispute the last element. (See Dkt. Nos. 56-26, pp. 18–22; 64, pp. 13–16).

An accommodation request “contemplate[s] an ongoing, informal, and interactive process that ‘should identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability and potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations.’ ” Quadir v. New York State Dep’t of Labor, 39 F. Supp. 3d 528, 539–40 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2). “[I]t is the responsibility of the individual with a disability to inform the employer that an accommodation is needed.” Gingold v. Bon Secours Charity Health Sys., 768 F. Supp. 2d 537, 543 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (quoting Graves v. Finch Pruyn & Co., Inc., 457 F.3d 181, 184 (2d Cir. 2006)). While a formal written request is not required, the request “must be sufficiently direct and specific to give the employer notice of the needed accommodation.” Dooley v. JetBlue Airways Corp., 636 F. App’x 16, 18–19 (2d Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). In other words, an employer cannot be said to have refused an accommodation if no request was ever made. Id. So, “[w]hat matters … are not formalisms about the manner of the request, but whether the [requestor or his representative] provides the [requestee] with enough information that, under the circumstances, the [requestee] can be fairly said to know of both the disability and desire for an accommodation.”

Applying the law, the court explained:

Here, with regard to the requested lunch breaks, Plaintiff has failed to adduce evidence that she ever informed her supervisors that those requests were related to her disability and necessary for her to perform her job. (See Dkt. No. 64, pp. 13–16). Indeed, Plaintiff does not identify when or to whom she directed her requests. (Id.).4 Principal Cooper testified that she did not remember Plaintiff ever asking for breaks or lunch breaks. (Dkt. No. 56-6, p. 7). Moreover, Plaintiff testified that the only disability-related accommodations she needs for Hashimoto’s disease is help with physical aspects of the job, including restraining and lifting aggressive or violent students. (Dkt. No. 56-5, p. 14). Plaintiff has not claimed that Defendant ever denied any accommodation related to the physical aspects of her work at BOCES.

In sum, even if Plaintiff did request breaks and Defendant denied them, there is no evidence that BOCES knew or should have known that the request was necessary to accommodate Plaintiff’s disability. Thus, Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case as to the alleged break accommodations.

The court reached the same conclusion as to plaintiff’s request for medical leave:

Plaintiff has also failed to make a prima facie showing that she was wrongfully denied an accommodation with respect to medical leave. (See Dkt. No. 64, pp. 13–16). Notably, the March 30th note from Plaintiff’s doctor vaguely describes the “nature of the illness/injury” as “medical,” without any further explanation or reference to her disability. (Dkt. No. 56-13). There is no evidence whatsoever that Plaintiff ever told anyone at BOCES that the medical leave was disability-related or a necessary accommodation, either before or any time after she submitted the notice. Further, there is no evidence that she was denied the medical leave; rather the record shows that Plaintiff submitted notice of her medical leave after the process for the termination of her employment had already begun. As discussed above, Plaintiff’s termination was supported by well-documented evidence that she engaged in workplace misconduct and insubordination. She has not pointed to any authority that BOCES was required to grant her medical leave while in the process of terminating her employment for these reasons.

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, no reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff was denied an accommodation for her disability based on her vague request for medical leave while BOCES was in the process of terminating her employment.

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